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Climbers misjudged conditions: coroner

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/03/2016

The "bold" decision-making of an Australian climber was a factor in leading him and two German mountaineers to their deaths during an attempt to reach the summit of New Zealand's highest peak.

Sydney doctor Mike Bishop, 54 along with Johann Viellehner, 58 and his son Raphael were killed by an avalanche during an attempt to summit the 3724-metre high Aoraki/Mt Cook in late December 2014.

Their bodies were never recovered despite an extensive five-day search.

A coroner's inquest into their deaths heard the experienced trio were equipped for the bid and had left Plateau Hut around 1.30am on December 29.

A local alpine guide Dave McKinley and his client followed them before turning back an hour later because of an illness coupled with what he believed to be unsafe conditions.

The alarm was raised the following day when the trio did not return to the hut as intended.

A week later, another climber saw a piece of clothing among avalanche debris near the "Gun Barrels", the area where the trio went missing, but was unable to recover it.

Coroner David Crerar heard evidence from Mr McKinley who noted his concern about Mr Bishop's decision-making.

Mr McKinley considered the Australian as "bold" for climbing to the hut via a particularly dangerous route and had attempted other mountain climbs in adverse weather.

He said the weather was particularly warm which creates ice instability and greater potential for avalanches.

"There is little opportunity for `bold' mountaineers," Mr Crerar said in his findings.

"Michael Bishop misjudged the conditions and has made the ultimate sacrifice for his misjudgment."

He found the cause of death for all the men was likely to be severe traumatic injuries and/or suffocation or asphyxiation.

More than 230 people have been killed in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park - 78 of them while climbing the peak.

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