ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – The search for four Japanese climbers who were caught in an avalanche on Alaska’s Mount McKinley has been halted, with authorities calling the site their final resting place.
The National Park Service said Sunday that a shallow avalanche on the mountain may not have killed the climbers, but the slide pushed them into a crevasse more than 100 feet deep.
The search for them was permanently suspended after a mountaineering ranger found the climbing rope in debris at the bottom of the crevasse, spokeswoman Kris Fister said Sunday from Talkeetna.
“We believe this is their final resting place,” Fister said.
The four were identified as Yoshiaki Kato, 64, Masako Suda, 50, Michiko Suzuki 56, and 63-year-old Tamao Suzuki, 63.
The avalanche early Wednesday morning also pushed Hitoshi Ogi, 69, into the crevasse. Ogi climbed 60 feet out of the crevasse and reached a base camp Thursday afternoon.
Ogi had been attached to the other members of the team by climbing rope as they descended in an avalanche-prone section of the West Buttress Route. The rope broke in the avalanche and fall.
The group was on a section known as Motorcycle Hill at about 11,800 feet, which has a 35-degee slope. Climbers who take a required briefing on the mountain are warned of the avalanche danger there.
“This is the first time there have been fatalities,” Fister said.
The avalanche likely was set up by new snow falling on rock or hardened snow and ice, Fister said. No climber reached the summit between June 8 and the day of the fall five days later because of falling snow and wind that limited visibility, Fister said.
The avalanche measured 200 feet wide and 800 feet top to bottom, Fisher said. It created a snow pile averaging only 3-4 feet deep.
A 10-person ground crew searched for the climbers Saturday and at first concentrated on the avalanche debris. The patrol included a rescue dog and a handler. Probes turned up no sign of the missing climbers.
“We weren’t certain originally,” Fister said. “That’s why we were probing through the snowfield itself. Then when we had the chance to go further into the same crevasse that he (Ogi) had fallen into, they started going further in, probing. Again, there was a lot of ice debris that had fallen into it.”
Park Service mountaineering ranger Tucker Chenoweth found a grim sign of the doomed climbing team in the crevasse. Ogi had emerged from the crevasse with much of his gear missing, and Chenoweth spotted equipment as he descended. At 100 feet down, he dug through ice debris and spotted rope.
It matched about 60 feet of rope that remained attached to Ogi, and which he had carried with him on his descent from the crevasse to the base camp.
Chenoweth continued to dig, hoping to reach the other roped-in climbers, but found the going difficult through the compacted ice and snow debris.
The danger of falling ice made it too dangerous to continue an attempt to recover bodies, Fister said.
All the climbers were members of the Japanese alpine club Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation.
Ogi suffered a minor hand injury, according to the Park Service. He was flown off the mountain Thursday.
The deaths bring to six the number of fatalities on the mountain during the summer climbing season.
Since 1932, 120 people have died on the mountain. A dozen died in avalanches.
Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said by phone from Talkeetna that the Japanese climbers bring to 44 the number of bodies that remain on North America’s tallest mountain. Some, she said, were in similar circumstances where it was too dangerous to mount a recovery effort. Others have never been found.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them