New Zealand avalanche kills 2 Germans, woman survives

WELLINGTON (AFP) - A New Zealand woman who was buried alive in an avalanche has told how she dug her way out of the snow after her two companions, both originally from Germany, perished on the mountainside.

Media reports on Thursday (Nov 1) named the dead men as Martin Hess and Wolfgang Maier, with police confirming they were both German-born mountain guides who lived in New Zealand.

They were climbing Mount Hicks, a 3,200 metre peak on the country's South Island, with New Zealander Jo Morgan when the avalanche struck on Wednesday morning.

Morgan said they were halfway up a slope when the fresh snowfall above them began to shift.

"It's a terrifying thing, it's a bit like the surf coming down on you, just a huge big wave of ice coming down the slope towards you," she told Radio New Zealand.

Morgan said she was submerged in the snow but able to move one hand, which she used to scrape snow from her mouth before wriggling her way free over more than an hour.

"It took me 30 minutes to get my locator beacon out... but I was still totally stuck in the snow and it took me another half-hour to an hour to extract myself."

She was free when rescuers arrived a short time later.

Morgan and her companions were all experienced mountaineers and she said they were unlucky to hit a patch of unstable snow.

"We weren't being foolish or anything and we just hit a slope that... was laden with the type of snow that avalanches," she told TVNZ.

Police inspector Dave Gaskin said Morgan's climbing experience probably saved her life.

"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," he told reporters.

"She managed, when the avalanche finished, to have one or two arms out and managed to dig herself out. Unfortunately the other two were down below."

The men's bodies were recovered from the mountain on Wednesday.