German climber 'very very lucky'
Rescuers of a badly injured German climber who survived an 18 hour-ordeal in a huge crevasse high in the Southern Alps believe a small ledge saved her life.
Experienced mountain climber Sabine Hellenbrandt, 34 slid an unknown distance down the west face of Glacier Peak early yesterday afternoon and smashed into the crevasse's downhill side, slipping a further 5m till a ledge stopped her about 10 metres down.
Her rescuers from Fox Glacier doubted she would have survived had she fallen right into the deep crevasse.
''It's very very lucky,'' South Westland Alpine Cliff Rescue team leader Marius Bron said today..
She suffered a nasty open fracture to her left wrist and a suspected fractured right ankle or lower leg in the fall.
The woman had set out from Pioneer Hut about 10am yesterday to climb the mountain with German climbing companion, Helmut Lachmann, 55, who is a doctor.
They were about 100m below the summit and climbing unroped when she fell about 1.30pm to 2pm.
''She was behind him and he turned around to see her sliding down the hill and disappear into a hole.''
Her companion climbed down and located her on the ledge, anchored her to the ice face for safety, bundled her up in a bivvy bag, splinted her arm and gave her some painkillers.
Then he set out to Pioneer Hut, which took him about an hour, where he used the hut radio to raise the alarm about 3.30pm.
Glaciers Helicopters airlifted three South Westland Alpine Cliff Rescue team volunteers near the summit about 6pm yesterday and they quickly located her when she answered their calls.
Despite getting her ready to be airlifted out, clouds rolled in and prevented the helicopter rescuing her last night.
Fortunately, Bron and his teammates Jonathan Hattrell and Richard Bottomley, all who work as glacier guides in Fox Glacier, had plenty of warm gear and equipment to help her through the night.
''The crux of the story is she probably would have died overnight from exposure had we not reached her last night,'' Bron said.
They stayed by her side at the freezing altitude 2854m above sea level.
The woman, a dialysis nurse, had strong painkillers with her plus her GP companion's first aid kit. She stayed conscious and in good spirits despite significant pain.
''She was incredibly strong and despite having an open fracture, she was able to talk in her second language.
''She was completely aware and accepting and grateful we were there. In fact, she said she wanted to come back to have breakfast with us this morning.''
Bottomley stayed at her side on the ledge the whole night, giving her hot water bottles and sips of water, keeping her comfortable and giving moral support.
She and Bottomley were airlifted out of the crevasse together on a strop this morning about 8am in clear weather, followed by Bron and Hattrell. She was flown to South Westland Health Services in Franz Josef before a Westpac rescue helicopter flew her to Christchurch Hospital.
Her companion was airlifted from the hut last night and overnighted in Fox Glacier township.
After he met with rescuers this morning, he drove to Christchurch to be at his friend's side. His wife travelled with the woman in the helicopter to Christchurch.
Another specialist Alpine Cliff Rescue team from Aoraki Mt Cook spent the night at nearby Pioneer Hut, along with a helicopter.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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