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Three Japanese mountaineers, whose identities have not been released, summitted New Zealand’s Mt. Cook (3754m) about 9 p.m. on January 24. As the team rappelled down the Linda Glacier Route, the rock they had anchored to gave way ca. 200m below the summit (see red arrow for approximate location), dropping two of the climbers in a deadly half-kilometer fall. The third survived and returned to the Plateau Hut (where this photo was taken) to notify rescue teams of the accident. [Photo] Danny Uhlmann

On January 25, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation Alpine Rescue Team recovered the bodies of two climbers from Mt. Cook’s Upper Linda Ice Shelf at ca. 3500 meters after a tragic accident January 24.

After summitting the 3754-meter mountain, New Zealand’s highest peak, on Wednesday evening, three Japanese climbers began rappelling down the Linda Glacier Route. Two hundred meters below the summit they anchored for another standard abseil. At 9 p.m. the man (53) and woman (31) fell nearly half a kilometer onto the glacial outcrop; initial reports estimate that the rock they had anchored to gave way. Their third teammate (28), miraculously spared by rockfall that reportedly cut him free of his two teammates, immediately descended to reach the Plateau Hut by 1 a.m. There he alarmed rescue teams of the tragedy.

At press time, it is unclear exactly how the rock severed the rope or how the survivor continued to descend.

The survivor suffered severe shock from the accident, and was still traumatized when he arrived at Mt. Cook village to speak with authorities, said Constable Carl Pedersen of the Twizel police. The bodies were also taken to the village, and will be relocated to Timaru, southeast from the Southern Alps, for post mortems.

The identities of the dead climbers will not be revealed, police said, until their respective families have been notified of the loss. The three climbers had known each other for about four years through a mountaineering club in Japan.

The Plateau Hut, where the survivor alerted rescue teams of the tragedy about 1 a.m. on January 25. The hut is located on Mt. Cook?s east side, at the edge of the Hotchstetter Icefall, below the Linda Glacier. [Photo] Danny Uhlmann