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Mt. Rainier - search too risky

Park officials say it's currently too risky to send people in search of six climbers who likely fell thousands of feet to their deaths while attempting to scale 14,410-foot Mount Rainier.

Under safer conditions, crews could go in after the bodies. "The families, I'm sure, would like that closure," park spokeswoman Patti Wold said Sunday. But continuous falling ice and rock make the avalanche-prone area too dangerous for rescuers.

"People are very understanding that we cannot risk another life at this point," she said.

Park officials say that as in the case of some others who have died on the mountain, there's a possibility the two guides and four climbers believed to have fallen 3,300 feet from their last known location may never be found.

The climbers were last heard from at 6 p.m. Wednesday when the guides checked in with their Seattle-based company, Alpine Ascents International, by satellite phone. The group failed to return Friday as planned.

They are presumed dead in one of the worst alpine accidents on Rainier since 1981, when 11 people were struck and killed by a massive ice fall on the Ingraham Glacier.

Family and friends of the dead climbers arrived at the mountain Sunday to meet with park officials, but declined to speak with media that had gathered at the park's headquarters.

"They're just devastated," Wold said.

It's unclear whether the climbers were moving or camping at the time of the accident, Wold said. Searchers located camping and climbing gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons buried in the snow at the top of the Carbon Glacier at 9,500 feet in elevation.

It's also not known what caused the climbers to fall from their last known whereabouts at 12,800 feet on Liberty Ridge, whether it was rock fall or an avalanche.

Glenn Kessler, the park's acting aviation manager, said "they are most likely buried," making recovery efforts even more challenging. They may be in an area too hazardous for rescuers to reach on the ground.

The area will be checked periodically by air in the coming weeks and months, Wold said. They will also evaluate the potential for a helicopter-based recovery as snow melts and conditions change.

Last year, about 10,800 people attempted to climb the 14,410-foot glaciated peak southeast of Seattle, but only 129 used the Liberty Ridge route, according to park statistics. The vast majority use two other popular routes.

 

The Canadian Press

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