Problems Lead to Helicopter Evacuations of Climbers Off Mount McKinley in Denali National Park
Mountaineering rangers and helicopter pilots have been busy this week rescuing climbers on Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve.
The most recent incident took place Thursday afternoon when a Canadian climber had to be evacuated from the mountain's West Rib route. Luc Benoit, age 40 of Montreal, reportedly
fell 1,000 feet while solo climbing the technically challenging West Rib route Wednesday evening, park officials said in a release.
Unable to safely ascend or descend from his elevation at 14,000 feet due to an injured shoulder and a loss of gear, the following morning Monsieur Benoit radioed for assistance from Denali National Park mountaineering rangers. At midday Thursday, the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter flew to the site with Denali mountaineering ranger Tucker Chenoweth on board. Unable to find a suitable landing zone, helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky performed what is known as a ‘toe-in’ landing maneuver, a stabilized hover technique in which only the tips of the skids touch down on the snow.
Monsieur Benoit was swiftly evacuated to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet, where he was examined by an NPS volunteer physician, then flown to Talkeetna in a fixed-wing aircraft and released from NPS care.
Three additional air evacuations occurred in the past week, the park reported. On the night of May 20, NPS rangers treated a guided client for high altitude pulmonary edema at the 17,200-foot camp. The following day, rangers assisted the patient down to the 14,200-foot camp, from where he was evacuated on May 22 when his condition did not sufficiently improve.
On May 24, a non-ambulatory climber suffering from severe altitude illness was treated and evacuated from the 14,200-foot camp. His symptoms quickly resolved once he reached Talkeetna. Lastly, a climber experiencing acute pain and illness related to a kidney stone was evacuated from the 7,800-foot camp on the West Buttress on Wednesday evening. The park helicopter transported him back to Talkeetna and transferred him to a ground ambulance for further medical care at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.
Denali mountaineering operations reach their peak this week. As of Thursday, 452 mountaineers were climbing Mt. McKinley. So far this season, 165 climbers have completed their expeditions; 39 percent of which reached the mountain’s summit.
One climber, a 51-year-old Frenchman, fell to his death May 16 while trying to stop a sled holding his gear from sliding off a section of the West Buttress.