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NZ Alpine Club recommends private review of Darrans climbing accident

Conor Smith and Sarwan Chand fell to their deaths whilst rock climbing in Fiordland. Photo: New Zealand Alpine Team

The New Zealand Alpine Club has recommended that the New Zealand Alpine Team consider an independent review of the accident that claimed the lives of team members Conor Smith and Sarwan Chand over Anzac weekend.

Both experienced and competent climbers, Smith, 22, and Chand, 27, were attempting a rock climbing route on the south face of Marian Peak. Their intended route was Barrier Knob to Barrier Peak, with a descent into Marian Valley and then to ascend Marian Peak. It’s believed they sustained a factor-two lead fall, which means the lead climber fell below the belay, effectively pulling out the traditional protection set for the belay anchor.

The climbers were reported missing after failing to return to Homer Hut, a New Zealand Alpine Club hut just before the entrance to Homer tunnel. A helicopter search the following day found the pair.

NZAC president Penny Brothers said an independent review would be helpful for the climbing community.

Although not connected to the NZAT, as fellow climbers we encourage them to learn from our past experiences in these most difficult of circumstances. For the benefit of the climbing community, we would support a review of their own, considering changes or lessons learned which might help prevent such accidents in the future,” Brothers said in a statement.

Smith, originally from Greymouth, was a former Tai Poutini Polytechnic student, and was living in Queenstown. His alpine team bio says he was into all types of climbing, but excelled at rock climbing.

Chand, from Canterbury, studied at Lincoln University and was living in Wanaka. His team bio says he was an avid climber, runner, mountain biker and snowboarder, who from a young age spent time tramping and doing transalpine trips in Arthur’s Pass and Westland. Chand had climbed widely in the Southern Alps, with ascents of La Perouse, Mt Cook, and Sabre.

NZAT mentor Steve Fortune says it was a rare accident. “They were experienced guys, they weren’t doing anything silly, that sort of thing just doesn’t happen very often,” Fortune said. “It’s all a bit of a shock.”

Fortune believes they were two to three pitches into their climb when the leader fell, causing the anchor failure. “As to what caused the fall, or what caused the anchor pieces to come out, we don’t really know.”

Police are currently conducting an investigation of the incident.