An Australian soldier on a survival training exercise has died after falling down a deep crevasse on on Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain.
Emergency services were told of the incident at 12.18pm today and the Alpine Rescue Team from Mount Cook village went to the area.
Soldier fell through snow bridge
Unseasonably warm weather a factor in Australian Soldier falling down a crevasse, says NZ conservation minster Nick Smith, who had just flown over the area in a helicopter.
The body of the 44-year-old has been recovered and has been flown back to the Mount Cook Emergency Service Centre.
The Australian Defence Force has confirmed in a statement that the man was an Australian solider. He was on the mountain as part of a group of 10 involved in a training exercise.
The statement said that, as it was a developing situation, no further details would be released "at this time", but Defence would provide updates "in due course".
New Zealand Minister for Conservation Nick Smith told Fairfax Media the man had fallen through a snow bridge, packed snow that had formed a layer over the crevasse, and sustained "unsurvivable" injuries.
"The conditions on Mount Cook are seasonally a little unusual as there has been far less snowfall, conditions are warmer," Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith said there will need to be a proper inquiry into whether all potential safety measures were taken but that alpine environments, especially at high altitudes, were always risky.
The police are advising the man's next of kin and the matter has been referred to the coroner
Mount Cook is on New Zealand's South Island and is more than 3500 metres high.
The conditions at the plateau can be extreme, with winds reaching 120km/h and July temperatures plunging well into the negative.
According to a statement issued by the New Zealand Department of Conservation, a large rock avalanche hit the mountain's south face on Wednesday.
The avalanche engulfed one of the department's alpine huts. The hut is in a remote area that can only be accessed by experienced hikers and the department says it has no record of visitors to that area at the time of the avalanche.
Department of Conversation services manager Mike Davies said it is carrying out initial inspections by helicopter.
“We are working with GNS Science to assess the stability of the area enabling us to carry out a more detailed investigation of the rock fall and the damage,” Mr Davies said.
“Until that assessment is complete we are asking climbers and other visitors to keep out of the Noeline Glacier region of the upper Hooker valley.”
New Zealand Alpine Club general manager Sam Newton told Fairfax Media the avalanche was rare.
- with Sahiban Kanwal and David Wroe