A company in Texas got the alert earlier this week: One of its locator beacons had been set off—in New Zealand. It alerted the country's Rescue Co-ordination Centre, but three sub-zero nights passed before anyone was able to reach 29-year-old Terry Harch, a lieutenant with the Australian Army who was on leave. Radio New Zealand
explains that fierce winds and low cloud cover prevented a rescue from being staged on Mount Aspiring, where Harch ended up spending nearly a week amidst snow and winds in excess of 35mph, reports the BBC
. The mission coordinator said it was "extraordinary" that Harch was able to stand and wave at the helicopter that sighted him; doubly so, he suffered only "slight frostbite."
Harch's sleeping bag and food had been found at a lower elevation, so rescuers used skis to bring him a tent, clothes, and food on Thursday, reports news.com.au. He was taken off the mountain Friday during a break in the weather, in what a rep for the rescue center calls an operation "bigger than Ben-Hur." Rescue officer Geoff Lunt says officials believe Harch "dug himself a snow dug-out shelter and that's helped in his survivability over these last few days. ... He has clearly made some good decisions," Lunt tells the Otago Daily Times. Though attempting to climb Aspiring at all may not have been one of them. A professional guide tells the paper "the ways to climb Mt Aspiring in winter all involve steep slopes which can be dangerous avalanche slopes. Typically, the avalanche danger is too high so most people don't climb at this time of year." (Read more New Zealand stories.)