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Updated: Remarkables fatal fall: 'A guide's worst nightmare' - rescuer

Nov 07, 2019

The two climbers who fell to their deaths in the Remarkables yesterday were Australians visiting this country.

They were 62-year-old Brett Alexander Lentfer and 44-year-old James Harry Spaile.

The men died while on a guided hike on the Grand Traverse. One body was recovered yesterday afternoon and the other this morning.

Mountain Safety Council chief executive Mike Daisley said the Grand Traverse is an iconic climbing route, not simply a hike or trail.

He said it's a serious undertaking, and not suitable for most people.

The deaths of the two climbers was tragic, and a guide's worst nightmare, said the alpine rescue specialist who was first on the scene.

The two men fell from the Grand Alta Ridge and died shortly before midday, tied together.

Leading another alpine tour near the bottom of the ridge, by chance, was Chris Prudden of Mountain Rescue.

He said it wasn't immediately clear what had happened, when he saw one person at the bottom of the hill and a guide at the top.

"It was pretty sad, pretty tragic... to see the end of that situation knowing full well that they'd fallen 300 metres - it's a hell of a long way in that steep terrain," he said.

A rescue helicopter was dispatched to the scene and removed one of the men, and police confirmed the deaths at about 4.30pm.

A recovery team has this morning found and removed the body of the second climber who died after a fall on the Remarkables yesterday. In a statement, police said the climber's body was found shortly after 8am.

They said details of their identity would be released after formal identification and the family had been told.

Mr Prudden said the conditions yesterday could have been a factor in the fall.

"It was very warm, a little bit of cloud wafting around the peak, and the snow was very soft and could be called unstable on areas of the Grand Traverse, although it's mostly rock exposed there now. That weak snow may well have been a component," he said.

Having worked full time in the Remarkables since 2002, Mr Prudden wasn't surprised a bad accident had happened on the 8-to-12-hour route along the high points of the Remarkables.

"Over the summer months there's a hell of a lot of people that go along there, a hell of a lot of people who solo along there, treating the place unfortunately way too casual," he said.

"It's technical terrain. It's very steep on either side. The only way off it is to go across it."

Every year he said he helped rescue people who had found the downwards trip a lot further than what they thought - and in September he helped rescue three people from the Grand Alta Ridge in snowy conditions.

RNZ understands the group involved in yesterday's fatal accident were with Aspiring Guides.

Mr Prudden said he hoped the lesson went out to the general public around Queenstown that they should treat the Remarkables with a lot of respect.

As for guides and regular climbers, he said "it makes you start to think about things."

"Essentially, our job as guides is to manage safety for others in the mountains and hopefully teach them things as well. I guess it's a guide's worst nightmare when things become unstuck," he said.

The Grand Traverse is an alpine rock route that's one of the highest points of the Remarkables range.

Listen to the interview with New Zealand Mountain Guides Association president Jane Morris duration 3′ :31″ from Morning Report Add to playlistPlaylist Download as Ogg Download as MP3 Play Ogg in browser Play MP3 in browser

New Zealand Mountain Guides Association president Jane Morris told Morning Report it was a tricky route that involved rock-climbing, scrambling and short technical crux points.

In general, the route required technical equipment and some may be comfortable in doing it solo if they had enough experience, she said.

It was also considered to be a good training ground before climbers progressed to other peaks, she said.

WorkSafe has been notified about the incident and is making initial inquiries.

The deaths will be referred to the coroner.

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