Patrollers probe avalanche debris

08:28, Sep 27 2012
SEARCH: A team of patrollers are probing the debris as a precautionary measure.

A full-scale three-hour search has established no one was buried in a large avalanche on a steep face of Double Cone near the Remarkables ski area, NZ Ski's chief executive says.

The avalanche hit about 3pm today just outside the ski area boundary in a steep area known as the Terminator chutes. It was about 200 metres long, 800m wide and dumped debris in areas to a depth of up to 3m.

Chief executive James Coddington tonight said the company had finished probing and taken a last walk over the site with a dog crew.

"We're now 100 per cent certain there's nobody buried in the avalanche debris."

It was a great result by 40 patrollers from three skifields, the Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona, and three dog teams.

Grid searches were conducted in 80m by 100m sweeps, a police-led search and rescue operation deployed helicopters to collect searchers from other mountains and then searchers swept over the debris field.

It was a natural avalanche triggered by warm spring conditions and a fresh snowpack released on a dangerously steep face, Mr Coddington said.

While one person was moved from the base building by ambulance about 6.30pm, Mr Coddington said an ambulance on standby for the avalanche search and rescue was not otherwise needed.

The SAR teams and patrollers did a great job in record time and their professionalism was to their credit, he said.

New Zealand Mountain Safety Council snow and avalanche programme manager Andrew Hobman said searchers scouring the area had a lot of debris to work through.

"It is possibly two metres deep at the bottom where it has collected."

Tracks were found near the avalanche but it was not known whether anyone had been caught up in it.

There had been no signals from transceivers detected at the site.

The "'slab avalanche" - which occurs when a layer of snow sitting on an unstable layer slides away - was thought to have been a 1.5 out of 5 on the scale that measures their size, he said.

Avalanches measuring above two on the scale usually killed people, but the way yesterday's avalanche had collected in a gully made it much more dangerous.

"It's certainly significant enough that it has made them do a full search of the area," he said.

Acting Sergeant Phill Hamlin said two officers had been stationed at the ski field base building in the afternoon and had received no reports of people missing on the ski field.

The last avalanche death in the Southern Lakes was snowboarder Ryan Campbell, 30, of Queenstown, who died when he was buried at the Dirty Four Creek, outside Coronet Peak boundary, on August 2, 2009.

Three years ago Queenstown resident Sam Deavoll experienced the power of an avalanche near the Remarkables chutes when he and two others were almost hit by one. Following the experience, Mr Deavoll urged others to be more careful before heading into the backcountry.

"You don't think of that terrain at the Remarkables as backcountry unless you're going on a day trip."

But any area that was not patrolled could be the site of a potential avalanche, he said.


AVALANCHE ALERT: Searchers work their way across an avalanche on a slope just outside the Remarkables Ski Area.
AVALANCHE ALERT: Searchers work their way across an avalanche on a slope just outside the Remarkables Ski Area.

The Press