A six-day air and ground search failed to find any sign of Sydney doctor and church pastor Mike Bishop, 53, or fellow climbers Johann Viellehner, 58, and his son Raphael, 27, on Aoraki-Mt Cook.

It is feared that the trio may have fallen into a crevasse, and in a grim reminder of the dangers of mountaineering their families have been warned that the bodies may never be found. The official death toll in the Aoraki-Mt Cook national park now stands at 238, with around 60 bodies having never been recovered.

Police have suspended the search for the three men until such time as new information is received or new sightings reported.

Senior Constable Brent Swanson said: “The families of the men have been informed of the news. They are obviously upset but are aware of the circumstances leading to the suspension.”

Dr Bishop, a father of two, decided on Christmas day to make his third attempt on the 3724m peak that had twice eluded him. It is believed that he met the German pair at the Plateau Hut base camp, and they left on their bid to reach the summit via the Linda Glacier route at around 1.30am on Monday, December 29. They were last seen at the glacier’s Teichelmann’s Corner at 4am.

Dr Bishop’s love of mountaineering was reflected in ‘Ascent to Life’ – the name of the Christian charity organisation of which he was founder and pastor.

His elder son, Joshua, told the New Zealand Herald: “Everyone is still having faith and hoping for a good outcome…but we’re just coming to terms with the fact there’s been a tragedy and probably all three of them have lost their lives.”

Australian special forces soldier Sgt Gary Francis died on Mt Cook in July when he fell down a crevasse during a winter exercise. In December the mountain also claimed the life of experienced 28-year-old mountaineer Stuart Haslett – a member of the Aoraki Alpine Rescue Team – in a climbing accident.