Setting out for the summit of Mt Ruapehu on a stunning winter’s morning, Xian Zheng and his three friends envisioned a magnificent day ahead of them, with plans to hike to the mountain’s crater lake. The weather was perfect but the experienced group of alpine mountaineers did not take the conditions for granted. They packed supplies for an emergency, but never imagined they would need them.
By 9am they had ascended past the ski fields and were climbing slopes steeper than 40 degrees. It was at this point Xian began to find the climb challenging, and his boots were becoming loose. As he focused on reaching a flat surface one of his boots suddenly came off, his grip on the icy surface gave way and he slid down the slope at terrifying speed, slamming into the rocks 100m below.
The going was treacherous for his friends as they tried to reach him, with the axes only just penetrating the frozen surface. The descent proved too difficult for another of the group who suddenly slipped. Her friends could do nothing as she too plummeted down the slope, colliding with rocks on the way and landing only 15m from Xian.
Upon reaching their injured companions the climbers made contact with emergency services. Knowing that Xian would not be able to walk, they knew the speed and skills of the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter was paramount.
“Wrapped in survival blankets and extra jackets, I was in and out of consciousness,” said Xian. The rescue helicopter crew had to act fast to find a suitable landing spot and used a snow spade, harness and ropes to get Xian to the helicopter. Xian was flown to the ski base where he was stabilised before being transferred to Rotorua Hospital.
Xian had sustained a lacerated liver, and had internal bleeding, leading to a slow recovery in Intensive Care. Looking back on his misadventure, Xian knows he may not have survived if it weren’t for his friends and rescuers. “I thank my friends and the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter team. They got us off the mountain in time for my excellent hospital treatment and care,” said Xian.