(NOTES: Originally posted June 8, 2012. Re-posted here for archival purposes)

Four people are presumed dead in an avalanche on Mount McKinley. One made it out. Here’s the National Park Service release on the incident:

Avalanche Recovery Efforts Suspended on Mt. McKinley
Date: June 17, 2012

TALKEETNA, Alaska: A two-day ground search of the debris path from a fatal avalanche on Mt. McKinley was suspended Sunday after clues were found confirming the likely location of four deceased climbers. Mr. Yoshiaki Kato, 64, Ms. Masako Suda, 50, Ms. Michiko Suzuki, 56, and Mr. Tamao Suzuki, 63, of the Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation expedition are presumed to have died in the avalanche, while one team member, Mr. Hitoshi Ogi, 69, survived the event with a minor hand injury, according to officials with the National Park Service.

All are from Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.

The avalanche happened at approximately 11,800-feet on the West Buttress, and was originally believed to have occurred early morning June 14. However rangers have since confirmed with both Ogi and multiple teams on the mountain that the slide occurred during the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 13.

Ogi was swept into a crevasse and subsequently climbed out with minor injuries. He was unable to locate his teammates in the avalanche debris. Throughout the day, Ogi descended solo to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet, where he reported the accident shortly after 4:00 pm. June 14.

An aerial hasty search the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter took place on June 14 followed by an initial four-member NPS ground search the following day. On Saturday, June 16, an expanded 10-person ground crew consisting of rangers, volunteer patrol members, a dog handler, and a trained search and rescue dog probed and further investigated the debris zone. During the search, mountaineering ranger Tucker Chenoweth descended into the same crevasse that the survivor Hitoshi Ogi had fallen into during the avalanche. While probing through the debris roughly 30 meters below the glacier surface, Chenoweth found a broken rope end that matched the MWAF team’s rope. He began to dig further, but encountered heavily compacted ice and snow debris. Due to the danger of ice fall within the crevasse, it was decided to permanently suspend the recovery efforts.

There have six climbing fatalities on Mt. McKinley this season. Since 1932, a total of 120 climbers have perished on the mountain, 12 due to avalanches. This week’s four avalanche fatalities were the first to occur on the popular West Buttress route. (6.18.12)

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