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Cabinet Minister lost on frozen mountain -

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Cabinet Minister lost on frozen mountain

Simon Lauder reported this story on Monday, August 31, 2009 12:26:00

ELEANOR HALL: A search is underway for a member of the Victorian Cabinet who has gone missing on an
alpine mountain in treacherous conditions.

The State's Minister for Water, Tourism and Finance hasn't been heard from since Saturday evening
when he headed out on a solo trek to Mount Feathertop north-east of Melbourne.

In Melbourne, Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: It's Victoria's second highest mountain and the climb is dangerous at the best of
times. In the winter months the peak of Mount Feathertop is thick with snow and the steep hike is
also icy, making it a mission only for the most experienced of hikers.

Tim Holding set off on his own on Saturday and reached a hut on Saturday evening. The Victorian
Cabinet Minister sent a text message to his partner saying he had arrived.

He was expected home yesterday afternoon.

Senior weather forecaster, Peter Newham says the temperature plummeted to -7 degrees on Saturday
night and early yesterday.

PETER NEWHAM: If anything the conditions will deteriorate a bit during today with those
north-westerly winds freshening, the snow showers increasing a bit in frequency as the front moves
across Victoria and probably temperature will probably hover around -1 or -2 all day.

SIMON LAUDER: Acting Superintendent Wayne Rotherham from Victoria Police says the alarm was raised
when resort management reported the minister's car was still at the base of the mountain last
night.

WAYNE ROTHERHAM: We had a team get in there at 5am this morning. Took them five hours to walk from
the original, the initial car park. They got to the hut and Mr Holding wasn't there.

Since we've released it via the media we have someone come forward who saw him at the hut at 7am
yesterday morning and from that we have a direction of travel from where he has walked so we are
sending the searchers up there as we speak.

SIMON LAUDER: It's believed Mr Holding was headed towards the summit of the mountain.

The convenor of the volunteer group Bush Search and Rescue Victoria Frank Zgoznik says it's a
dangerous place to be in bad conditions.

FRANK ZGOZNIK: There is a high risk of accidents on the actual mountain, on the summit itself.
There is a large overhang of snow that we call a cornice and it has trapped a number of people over
the decades. And the cornice can collapse underneath them and send them down the side of the
mountain very quickly leading to either death or injury.

SIMON LAUDER: Another hiker who phoned ABC local radio says the conditions on the mountain change
quickly.

HIKER: The thing that happened on sort of Saturday night sometime through everything snap froze.
With the snow up there being smoothed out completely by the rain and then having snap frozen,
conditions would have been extremely hazardous indeed just walking around. The whole of the
mountains would have been a skating rink all of yesterday.

SIMON LAUDER: Acting Superintendent Wayne Rotherham says it's believed Tim Holding was seen walking
north from the hut yesterday morning but there are several ways he could have gone.

WAYNE ROTHERHAM: Once you get up the top there are rich tracks. You can sort of go north, south,
east or west so from the hut we are spreading the searches out from those directions so we are just
trying to cover all areas.

SIMON LAUDER: If Tim Holding has not been injured there's every reason to believe he's okay. The
37-year-old is said to be fit. He's an experienced hiker and a former army reservist.

There are about 18 people in the search team but low clouds have reduced visibility to less than 40
metres making the use of a helicopter impossible this morning.

Acting Superintendent Rotherham says there is some mobile phone coverage on the mountain.

WAYNE ROTHERHAM: We have been attempting to get through on the mobile but there is no coverage and
that will indicate either the phone's batteries are not functioning well. We did get a signal
emitted from the telephone late last night. We are just trying to track all that down now.

SIMON LAUDER: As Water Minister Tim Holding is in charge of some of the State Government's most
controversial projects but has a reputation for thriving on a high work load and being highly
dedicated to politics.

He's held several senior portfolios and is seen as a rising star in the party. The Premier John
Brumby is hoping for the best.

JOHN BRUMBY: Last night he has been somewhere out on the mountains. Tim is a very experienced
bushwalker. He is a person who is very fit. He is very determined. He has done walks like Kokoda.
He runs marathons. He has been in the Army Reserve and he was very, very well prepared.

Nevertheless the conditions are very difficult. The conditions were very cold yesterday and even
today visibility is very poor indeed.

I am hopeful that given Tim's preparation and his determination and his fitness that he will walk
out today but I don't have more to add at this stage except obviously we very much hope that he
will walk out today.

SIMON LAUDER: The Education Minister Bronwyn Pike is also worried but optimistic.

BRONWYN PIKE: Oh look I'm obviously very concerned about Tim Holding. He's in a very cold and
unhospitable place but if anybody is prepared to deal with that kind of environment then Tim is.
He's a very hit and hardy guy.

SIMON LAUDER: It's believed Tim Holding was carrying a thermal sleeping bag, a tent and food.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Lauder reporting.