Trapped Japanese, New Zealand climbers die on mountain

WELLINGTON (AFP) - A Japanese climber and his companion from Wellington died after being trapped in a snow cave on a New Zealand mountain for two nights in bitterly cold conditions, police said on Monday.

Police identified the pair as 31-year-old Hiroki Ogawa, a Japanese geoscientist studying in New Zealand, and Nicole Sutton, 29 who perished on Mount Taranaki on the western side of the North Island.

Sutton's father, Keith, told a media conference, where the deaths were confirmed, that he received a text from his daughter on Sunday night saying she did not think she would survive.

Keith Sutton described Ogawa, an experienced mountaineer, as "a very special man" who tried to look after his daughter but "we know mountains are a nasty place when things go wrong".

The climbers were in a relationship and they had hoped they would marry.

Rescuers had been attempting to reach the pair since Saturday when other members of their climbing party managed to get down through the foul weather and raise the alarm.

Although Ogawa and Sutton were able to communicate with rescuers via text, police said they had difficulty locating them and the conditions were too hazardous to send a helicopter in.

When rescuers eventually reached the trapped climbers near the 2,500 metre summit on Monday morning after hearing Sutton calling out, Ogawa was already dead.

Police commmander Blair Telford said rescuers attempted to bring Sutton down "quickly and safely" but she slipped into unconsciousness and died.

Ogawa, from Kanagawa in Japan, had studied in Australia before moving to New Zealand to complete his doctorate at the University of Auckland.

He was a keen mountaineer and had been a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club's Auckland branch.

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