‘Something was really wrong from the way he was yelling’
When Queenstown skier Sophie Brown heard the screams, she knew it wasn’t good.
Brown, skiing with friends at Coronet Peak on August 2, recalls the distant cries of Fraser Campbell as “quite loud, quite urgent and increasing”.
“We couldn’t really hear [what he was saying], we could only tell that something was really wrong from the way he was yelling.”
Fraser was desperately trying to find his older brother Ryan, 30, who had been buried in an avalanche triggered while snowboarding outside the Coronet Peak boundary about 4.40pm.
It’s believed he was killed instantly – buried by tonnes of snow and ice.
Ryan was the second South Island avalanche victim this winter. A week earlier, an avalanche on Methven’s Rag-ged Ranges killed Llynden Riethmuller, 61, of Sydney.
Then last Friday, Methven heliski guide Jonathan Morgan, 38, died in a large snow slip while leading four clients in the Ragged Ranges.
Brown’s involvement in the attempted rescue of Ryan has prompted her to host an educational film night at Queenstown’s World Bar next Thursday night as a Search and Rescue fundraiser.
She’s secured agreement to show The Fine Line, a documentary made by Canadian sherpas after one of them was killed in an avalanche.
Brown’s encouraging skiers and riders – particularly those going into backcountry areas – to do avalanche safety courses and “learn when to ski and when to call it a day”.
“[The failed rescue] is not something you ever want to be involved in but I was happy I was there and that I could do something.
“It’s a pity the outcome wasn’t a better one. Hopefully I can make a difference by doing this.”
Brown and friend Adrian Nankivell hurried to the avalanche scene about 600 metres away where Fraser was “pretty distraught”.
“I think he’d already gone into shock by the time we got to him.”
His father Joe Campbell would later tell media Fraser saw it happen: “He was a few metres behind and kept to the left. He was up on top of the avalanche trying to find his brother.”
Brown, 34, immediately dialled 111 while Nankivell searched for signs of Ryan’s whereabouts.
Once emergency services arrived, the pair joined a probe line in a fruitless search for Ryan – who didn’t have a transceiver locator beacon.
He wasn’t located till two hours later when a Recco detector – which senses reflectors sewn into some snow clothing – picked up a signal from his cellphone.
It took a dozen diggers another 30 minutes to reach his body under 3.5 metres of snow.
Brown: “You’re incredibly hopeful and optimistic at first and there’s a great sense of urgency but as time goes on it’s harder to stay optimistic. It’s been a harrowing experience and we’ve been trying to move on.”
Brown, skiing since she was four, says it’s given her greater respect for the mountains.
“I’ve always been careful but this has made me realise it’s crucial – things can go wrong so quickly and the consequences can be so dire.”
Brown admits she previously didn’t believe Coronet Peak could avalanche so heavily.
“[But] seeing the sheer amount of snow that was in that valley made me realise avalanche safety needs to be taken as seriously here as anywhere else.”
WHAT: Fundraiser avalanche film The Fine Line
WHERE: World Bar
WHEN: 6.30pm, Thursday, August 27
COST: $10 (all proceeds to Search and Rescue)
The first priority on avalanches is to avoid them altogether, Alpine Cliff Rescue member Chris Prudden warns.
“It doesn’t matter how experienced you are or how much kit you’ve got, the whole thing you’re trying to do is avoid getting involved in an avalanche.
“Carrying [safety] equipment is just your insurance policy and no one wants to claim on their insurance.”
Prudden, of Queenstown, says once buried, there’s little chance of getting out quickly – “the stats are very poor”.
Survivors tend to be people who ended up on the edges or bouncing on top.
“The thought of trying to outski or outride an avalanche, don’t even think about it. That’s luck country – no matter how good you are.”
Survival chances are worse for snowboarders.
“With skis, you hope your skis get clicked off but with your snowboard it’s like an anchor. Even if you’re trying to get to the surface, it’s just about impossible.”