WELLINGTON, New Zealand – An Australian soldier who dug a snow cave to survive below-freezing conditions for a week on a New Zealand mountain was rescued Friday.
Rescue authorities said they plucked 29-year-old Terry Harch from Mount Aspiring on the South Island in what they described as a “snatch and grab” mission involving three helicopters.
The helicopters also transported out four rescuers who had reached Harch a day earlier and two more rescuers who had been on their way to him.
Harch parked his car last Friday to climb the mountain and was expected back on Monday, authorities said. They said a friend reported him missing that day and Harch also triggered an emergency beacon.
Authorities said the soldier dug a snow cave to survive before rescuers reached him on Thursday. He was suffering from minor frostbite.
New Zealand Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Mike Roberts said in a statement they were able to drop off rescuers and a paramedic by helicopter on Thursday despite poor conditions and low cloud. He said it was amazing that Harch was able to stand up and wave when the helicopter arrived.
Authorities decided it was too dangerous to attempt a rescue that day, although they were able to provide the soldier with much-needed food and hot drinks, as well as a tent.
After the Friday rescue, Harch was transported to a hospital in the city of Dunedin.
Search and Rescue Officer Neville Blakemore said strong winds, cloud and snowfall had prevented a rescue attempt for most of the day on Friday until the weather suddenly improved in the afternoon, allowing for the speedy rescue at about 4 p.m.
“It’s a great result as we did not want the climber spending another night on the mountain,” he said.
Authorities said the man had survived strong winds, heavy snow and temperatures that, when the wind-chill was factored in, had fallen to minus-16 Celsius (3 Fahrenheit) in the Southern Hemisphere winter.