Fresh search for missing climber

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A chance meeting with the parents of a missing Wellington climber has prompted a fresh search near Queenstown.

Simon Bell, 33, was last seen on January 14 at Esquilant Bivvy Hut on Mt Earnslaw. The engineer’s former partner reported him missing on February 2. 

The official search was abandoned on February 11 and his disappearance referred to the coroner.

Queenstown’s Alpine Cliff Rescue team searched for Bell as part of training on the mountain late last month.

Team co-leader Chris Prudden says the search was prompted by his chance meeting with Bell’s parents in Glenorchy earlier in March after they had flown over the mountain to “say their last goodbyes”. 

”It’s pretty hard when you’ve got someone lost on a mountainside and you don’t get the body back,” Mr Prudden said.

He decided to hold scheduled training on the peak so that part of the day could be set aside to search for the body. 

Unfortunately, the eight team members found no trace of Bell.

Bell was on a mission to be the first to climb the 100 “great peaks” of New Zealand – taking leave from his job for the summer and relocating to Wanaka. 

Prudden says the team carried out a detailed search of the West Peak route previously thought to have been taken by Bell.

Although lower than the mountain’s East Peak, it was technically challenging and more prone to unstable snow and ice conditions.

Prudden thought it likely Bell had attempted to traverse the mountain along the ridge from west to east.

“If he has come adrift on the southern slopes, which are completely glaciated, there are endless possibilities about what may have happened to him, and why there’s no evidence.”

When Bell’s parents asked him what could be learnt from their son’s death, he told them solo climbing on technical routes greatly increased risk.

Although well-equipped, fit, experienced and carrying a satellite tracking device and personal locator beacon, he would not have been able to “push the button” if badly injured or if he had a fatal accident.

“Had he had a climbing partner, there was a good chance that person would have been able to help him or activate an emergency.”

At 2830m, Mt Earnslaw is the second-highest peak in the lower South Island, after Mt Aspiring.

Otago Daily Times