Mt Cook climber in fatal fall named

The body of a SAR team member who fell to his death on Aoraki/Mt Cook is recovered on Sunday.

The body of a SAR team member who fell to his death on Aoraki/Mt Cook is recovered on Sunday.

The man who died on Mt Cook on Saturday was an experienced climber and part of the Aoraki Alpine Rescue Team.

Stuart Douglas Cargill Haslett, 28, had called Mt Cook village "home" for the last three months while he worked for the Department of Conservation (DOC) as part of the Aoraki Alpine Rescue Team.

Senior Constable Les Andrew, who led the search and rescue operation, said Haslett and his climbing partner had set out to climb the north side of Mt Cook's east ridge early on Saturday.

CLIMBER: Stu Haslett was killed in a fall on Mt Cook.

CLIMBER: Stu Haslett was killed in a fall on Mt Cook.

The environment was "rocky" with a lot of snow and ice. "What we can gather from what his climbing partners said is that he put his pick into some ice, pulled himself up and the rock's given way."

Haslett then fell "quite a large" distance. The fall was not survivable, Andrew said. 

The Aoraki Alpine Rescue Team was initially sent out to find Haslett, but was turned back once they knew Haslett had not survived.

"Mt Cook's a small town. They're like a family," Andrew said. "They were pretty shook up with what happened."

The Wanaka Alpine Rescue Team was then dispatched and was able to recover Haslett's body about 10am yesterday after cloud lifted.

Andrew said Haslett's body had taken to Christchurch for an autopsy and his death had been referred to the coroner. 

Police initially thought three climbers were with Haslett when he fell, but later confirmed only one climber was with him.

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Two other climbers were also on the east ridge on Saturday, but were "totally separate". 

Andrew said Haslett and his climbing partner were "very experienced" mountaineers and accidents like this were "very rare". 

"These guys know ... there's an amount of risk - they try to make these risks very minimal, but accidents happen and when they do the environment is very unforgiving." 

Mt Cheeseman mountain manager Cam Lill said Haslett lived on the mountain every winter from 2008 to 2013. 

He started as a "rookie" ski patroller and "worked his way up the ranks" to become a snow safety officer.

"He was a very trusted and loyal employee. He made a lot friends with staff Cheeseman over the years and skiers. He was more than just a staff member." 

Haslett gained an Avalanche Safety Stage 2 certificate last year - the highest qualification available for snow safety in New Zealand, Lill said.

"He reached the limits of what Cheeseman could offer him career-wise and training-wise."

The 28-year-old spent his summers working as a tramping guide in the South Island or as a guide at Fox Glacier on the West coast.

He also worked as a ski patroller in Canada for a couple of seasons, Lill said.

"Just generally anything outdoors [he'd do] - any opportunity to get outdoors and in the mountains." 

Lill said Haslett's death was a "tragedy".

"It's the last thing we expected to happen. It's just a real shock," he said.

"Our thoughts go out to his family. He'll be very sorely missed." 

A spokesperson from Aoraki Alpine Rescue Team said Haslett, who was known at Stu, had been a "valued member of the community". 

"He was an experienced climber and much loved member of the team," they said.

"He enjoyed spending time in the Southern Alps and was always professional, courteous and friendly no matter what the circumstances. He will be sadly missed and our thoughts are with his family and friends."

Conservation services director Andy Roberts said "our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Stu's family, partner, friends and colleagues here at Aoraki".

Haslett worked at Canterbury's Mt Cheeseman ski area last year and at The Remarkables ski area, near Queenstown, this year.

The Remarkables ski area manager Ross Lawrence said Haslett worked on the mountain for about four-and-a-months months as a ski patroller.

He was a "great guy" and was always "keen to learn as much as he could".

"He certainly fitted into the team very well. We were looking forward to having him back."

Haslett lived in Queenstown during his time at The Remarkables and "commuted up and down the hill" with other workers daily.

"He was in his element up here. He loved the outdoors," Lawrence said. "He will be sadly missed and our heartfelt condolences go out to the family."

Mid-South Canterbury area commander Inspector Dave Gaskin said the recovery operation went as planned yesterday. 

Despite cloud cover in the morning the climber and his belongings were recovered safely, he said.

Christchurch man Ben van Opzeeland was at Mueller Hut, close to Mt Cook village, on Saturday morning.

He woke up about 5.20am and by 5.30am had clear views of Mt Cook and the surrounding ridges.

The mountain became shrouded by mist within 30 minutes though, he said.

"There wasn't a breath of wind. Visibility was about 20 metres."

He suspected Haslett and his climbing partner would have been above the clouds and in "bluebird skies" at that time.

Van Opzeeland said Mt Cook was often covered in fog, but usually the westerly wind "picks up and blows it all away". 

 - The Timaru Herald


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