updated 5/9/2007 8:45:41 AM ET 2007-05-09T12:45:41

An American student who clambered down ice-covered rocks in the dark to raise the alarm after he and two climbing partners plummeted 1,600 feet down a glacier in New Zealand was credited Wednesday with saving his friend's life.

The third climber was killed in Monday's fall, which occurred in Mount Aspiring National Park on New Zealand's South Island, said Wanaka police Constable Mike Johnston.

Jesse Kattmeyer suffered a broken collarbone and concussion in the fall, but tended to his badly battered partner Machael Gavillot before trekking to a mountainside hut in the remote region to call for help via radio, Johnston said.

Rescue experts said Gavillot had Kattmeyer to thank for his survival.

The only reason he's alive...
"The only reason he's really alive is because his mate managed to get down to that hut and raise the alarm," Johnston said.

Police named the two survivors, but declined to give their hometowns in the United States. They were airlifted to Dunedin Hospital. The dead man was identified as Austin Hanchey of Fairview, Tennessee. All three climbers were aged 20.

The trio, who were studying at Lincoln University in the southern city of Christchurch, were roped together when one slipped, and all three fell, Johnston said.

Gavillot suffered a broken pelvis, and leg and head injuries. Kattmeyer made a difficult nighttime descent through crevasses, ice and rock to get help, Johnston said. Searchers found the pair on Tuesday.

Wanaka search and rescue expert Gary Dickson said he was surprised anyone survived the "huge fall."

'Used up one of their nine lives'
"People who survive that have definitely used up one of their nine lives," he told National Radio.

Dickson praised Kattmeyer for crossing "some pretty full-on glaciated country" in his injured state.

"There is the accident, but there is also the heroism, getting out of the sticky situation. He's done awfully well to deal with that," he said.

Hanchey's mother, Faith, told The Associated Press her son loved the outdoors and wanted to educate others about the importance of the environment.

The environmental engineering student from Idaho State University decided to study in New Zealand in part for its outdoor opportunities. She recently visited him there for 12 days.

"He loved it, he absolutely loved it," she said of New Zealand. "He was in a place that he enjoyed and he was doing what he enjoyed, and that thought kind of has to carry you through."

Wanaka is a farming and tourist town 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of the capital, Wellington.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments