Go as a group, stay as a group

8th December 2021|2min

Media release Dec 12, 2021

Separating from a tramping party is one of the main causes of search and rescues in New Zealand’s hills and a coroner’s report, released today, encourages against it after the death of a Russian tramper in Arthurs Pass in 2019.  

Aleksandr Tsygankov, 40, and his two tramping partners all separated while tackling a challenging route above Crow Hut including the exposed ridges of Mt Guinevere and Mt Lancelot on April 13, 2019. 

The NZ Mountain Safety Council was asked to provide the coroner with a report on possible scenarios that led to Tsygankov’s death, and to make recommendations on how deaths such as this can be avoided. 

Despite all three having differing fitness levels in challenging terrain, they were conscious of the need to move quickly to make it to their destination before dark. While one party member decided to turn back, the other two were focused on achieving their objective. The heuristic trap of being ‘goal focused’ is a common factor in outdoor recreation incidents and contributes to 38% of tramping fatalities, according to recent research by MSC. 

Sticking together can help a group navigate through challenging terrain and means that no one is without the shared group items such as maps, communications devices, first aid kits and emergency shelters, the MSC say in the report.  
Coroner Heather McKenzie endorsed the NZ Mountain Safety Councils' advice which included: 

  1. Stick together. When setting off to move as a group, travel together for the entire journey, especially in technical terrain. Decisions to separate should only be made in an emergency situation, and even then, the risks should be evaluated and mitigated. 
  2. Group equipment such as maps must be available to all members to access and use if required. Carry multiple copies. 
  3. Always be prepared to turn back or change plans if things do not go as expected (planned). Have a Plan B organised before you leave and regularly stop and evaluate your progress. 
  4. Stay in constant communication with each other. Decisions about a change of plans should be made as a group and agreed to by all group members, ensuring everyone understands the potential implications. 
  5. Any decision to try and move faster due to a lack of remaining time is frequently the wrong decision, particularly when identified early in the day. If the group’s pace is not quick enough to achieve the objective within the time available, then the objective needs to change, not the group speed or group composition i.e. splitting up. 
  6. Finally, if you are not confident in your location, or cannot see your way out of high-consequence terrain, stop and consider your options. Stay warm by applying spare clothing, try to identify where you are if you are not certain, and use your emergency communication device to call for help. It is better to spend a few hours waiting in the cold than to risk serious injury or death. 

The MSC extends its condolences to Tsygankov’s family and tramping partners.  


Contact Communications Advisor Rebekah Wilson at rebekah.wilson@mountainsafety.org.nz with any other queries, data or photos.

Coroner findings attached. 

pdf Coroners findings Aleksandr Tsygankov pdf – 289 KB

Header photo: N. Watson in the Crow Valley