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Senior Constable Phil Vink, of Wanaka, had just got off the phone with the mother of a missing French skier last week when the man was found.

“I had told her there was about an hour and a-half of daylight left and the mountain was not a great environment to be in, knowing the weather that was coming – that it was a relatively high-risk environment.

“She understood what I meant. It was a great relief when I got to call her back five minutes later [with the good news],” he said.

Professional skier and world junior freestyle champion Tom Gratadour (18) was found walking back to his car.

Wanaka police and search and rescue volunteers had launched a day-long aerial and ground search in the mountains west of Lake Wanaka after he was reported overdue by his flatmate. He had not returned as scheduled from a solo back-country ski touring trip on Mt Alta and was not carrying a personal locator beacon.