- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — An American student who clambered down ice-covered rocks in the dark seeking help after he and two climbing partners plummeted 1,600 feet down a glacier was credited yesterday with saving the life of one of his friends.

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 Michael Gavillot before trekking to a mountainside hut in the remote region to call for help via radio, Constable Johnston said.

Rescue professionals said Mr. Gavillot had Mr. Kattmeyer to thank for his survival.

“The only reason he’s really alive is because his mate managed to get down to that hut and raise the alarm,” Constable 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, Tenn. All three climbers were age 20.

Mr. Gavillot underwent surgery yesterday and was recovering in Dunedin Hospital’s intensive care unit with restricted visiting, a hospital spokeswoman told the New Zealand Press Association.

Mr. Kattmeyer was listed in a stable but serious condition awaiting surgery.

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

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

Wanaka search and rescue specialist Gary Dickson said he was surprised anyone survived the “huge fall.”

“People who survive that have definitely used up one of their nine lives,” he told National Radio.

Mr. Dickson praised Mr. 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.

Mr. Hanchey’s mother, Faith, said her son loved the outdoors and wanted to educate others about the importance of the environment.

The environmental engineering student from the University of Idaho decided to study in New Zealand in part for its outdoor opportunities.

“He loved it, he absolutely loved it,” Mrs. Hanchey 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.”

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