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May 31, 2014 at 11:43 AM

‘No chance of survival’ for 6 missing Mount Rainier climbers

Seattle Times staff and Associated Press

Rainier-graphic

 

UPDATE 5:13 p.m.:

Officials say there is no chance that six missing Mount Rainier climbers have survived, after searchers found a debris field spreading hundreds of feet.

Air and ground searches were suspended, four hours before nightfall.

Tents, clothing, and debris were located by helicopter searchers, over Carbon Glacier. The debris field is strewn down the mountain’s steep north side — a pattern that suggests an avalanche or rockslide. Helicopters got low enough to pick up pings from avalanche beacons, buried in the snow, said Fawn Bauer, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

“They [rescuers] feel there is no chance of survival at this point,” Bauer said.

She said climbing rangers conducted a thorough search that included looking into crevasses.

“That is a steep face, almost like an avalanche chute,” she said of the Liberty Ridge route that the six took. The climbers were last heard from Wednesday around 6 p.m., when they reported they would camp overnight at 12,800 feet elevation.

Earlier today, officials said falling rocks presented a hazard for any ground search, and avalanches were occurring today.

UPDATE 5 p.m.:

Todd Burleson, founder of Alpine Ascents, said he’ll be heading to Mount Rainier tonight, to deal with families.

“Obviously this is a tragedy — it is very sad. We are very sad for the families and the loss of our guys. Everyone mourns this,” he said. “You always hold onto hope, but we are uncertain. All you can do is hope. We are waiting for updates, just like everyone else.”

UPDATE 2 p.m., corrected 4:28 p.m.:

The lead guide for the missing climbers is Matt Hegeman, Alpine Ascents confirmed this afternoon.

He checked in with the company on Tuesday, saying the whole crew made it to Thumb Rock at about 10,700 feet, according to an Alpine Ascents blog post. Then on Wednesday, the group said by phone they reached 12,800 feet and planned to camp for the evening. They have reportedly not made contact since.  (An earlier Today File post incorrectly said this group turned around at 13,000 feet due to bad weather.)

Hegeman lives in California according to his Facebook page. He has climbed Mount Rainier 50-plus times on four different routes, according to his bio on the Alpine Ascents website.

UPDATE 1:00 p.m.:

Aerial search crews spotted camping and climbing gear at 9,500 feet on Carbon Glacier. National Park Service spokeswoman Fawn Bauer said it is unknown whether the gear is from the missing party. Due to the amount of ice and potential rock fall on Carbon Glacier, ground crews have not yet been dispatched to search the area.

Mount Rainier as seen from White River Campground, where six missing climbers started their journey. (Photo by Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Original post:

Six climbers are missing on Mount Rainier and an aerial search has been launched, according to the National Park Service.

The party consists of four clients and two climbing guides from Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International. The group was climbing the Liberty Ridge area on the northwest shoulder of the mountain. They were expected back Friday, the park service said. When they did not return, the climbing company notified the park.

Gordon Janow, director of programs at Alpine Ascents, said the two guides are long-time, experienced guides and “highly capable.”

“Two guides and four climbers is a good ratio,” he said, even for Liberty Ridge, which the National Park Service says is one of the more technical and advanced routes on the mountain.

The last contact the climbers had with the Alpine Ascents was 6 p.m. Wednesday by satellite phone. The group was at 12,800 feet, and was scheduled to summit Mount Rainier on Thursday and return Friday.

Janow said the crew at Alpine Ascents is feeling “emotionally distraught,” and hopeful the climbers will be found.

“But, as time goes on, it is much harder to say what might happen,” he said.

This morning, a team of three climbing rangers started a ground search in the area of Liberty Ridge and the Bergschrund, according to the park service. Two climbing rangers are on board a helicopter for an air search and an Army Reserve 214th Air Division Chinook out of Joint Base Lewis McChord is also providing air support.

A flight restriction is in place.

Details about the missing climbers or where they were from were not immediately available.

More details to come as they become available.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: climbers missing, Mount Rainier

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