A New Zealand woman who began mountaineering at the age of 58 is recovering after digging herself out of an avalanche that killed two experienced mountain guides.
- Jo Morgan used a technique similar to swimming to free herself
- Two men, German-born New Zealand residents Martin Hess and Wolfgang Maier, were pronounced dead
- The trio of experienced climbers reportedly believed the weather conditions were safe
Jo Morgan dug for 45 minutes to free herself after the avalanche, described as being the size of three tennis courts, hit New Zealand’s Aoraki Mount Cook National Park early on Wednesday morning, according to TVNZ.
Ms Morgan, Martin Hess and Wolfgang Maier were tied together on one rope as they tried to climb the summit of Mount Hicks during a break in bad weather.
Ms Morgan had one hand free when the avalanche ended.
The experienced mountain climber was able to remove snow from her mouth and activate her emergency beacon, New Zealand news site Stuff reported.
She then began the exhausting climb.
“The technique when you’re involved in an avalanche is to swim, like overarm, and it allows you to keep higher up in the avalanche,” Mid-South Canterbury area commander Inspector Dave Gaskin said.
“[Ms Morgan] managed to dig herself out.
“Unfortunately, the other two were down below.”
When a rescue team arrived, an avalanche dog helped to dig the men out within minutes.
Paramedics worked to resuscitate Mr Hess and Mr Maier, but they were unable to be saved.
The men were both New Zealand residents who were born in Germany.
Ms Morgan said the pair were close friends.
“I’m absolutely broken,” she said.
“Two of my very dear friends lost their lives today, under tragic circumstances.
“I just got really lucky.”
Ms Morgan had been documenting the trek on Facebook, posting her last update on Tuesday afternoon.
“It has been bleak up here at Empress Hut the last couple of days but a 20-hour weather window has us planning to leave about 2am,” she wrote.
“Hopefully Mt Hicks feels like visitors.”
Ms Morgan, a writer and adventurer, is married to economist Gareth Morgan, who launched a political party that unsuccessfully contested New Zealand’s 2017 election.
The couple’s son Sam Morgan founded the online auction site TradeMe.
A warning from the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory was issued for the park on Tuesday morning, with the high alpine areas of the park still classed as “considerable risk” on Wednesday afternoon.