Midnight Mission Plucks Climber off Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve
A break in the clouds late Thursday night allowed climbing rangers aboard the park's A-Star B3 helicopter to reach Sam Van Brempt, who was bivouacked on a ledge on Cassin Ridge, around midnight.
Mr. Van Brempt had been awaiting rescue since Monday, the day his partner, Joris Van Reeth, was killed in a climbing fall. A Japanese team passing through on the night of the fatal accident had assisted the Belgian climber in lowering the body of his friend to a less steep elevation on the route. Due to avalanche-prone terrain below, Mr. Van Brempt remained camped alone on this 11,500-foot ledge above the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. Although physically uninjured, satellite phone calls to the ranger staff in Talkeetna indicated his emotional state had understandably deteriorated following the accident, the park reported.
A low-pressure system moved into the Alaska Range the night of the accident just as the NPS was attempting a helicopter rescue, and the clouds and heavy snowfall lingered in the vicinity throughout the week. In addition to an attempt by the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter, the Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage dispatched the combined 210th, 211th, and 212th Rescue Squadrons from Elmendorf Air Force Base to attempt an evacuation on both Wednesday and Thursday, but the persistent clouds kept the Pavehawk crews at bay, a park release said.
At approximately 9:30 p.m. Thursday, however, two NPS volunteers staged at the 9,500-foot level on the Kahiltna Glacier, a comparable elevation relative to Mr. Van Brempt’s location, made a radio call to rangers at Basecamp indicating that the skies had cleared above them. The park helicopter launched from Talkeetna around 10:00 p.m. with two rangers on board. At the 9,500-foot staging camp, the rangers hooked up a rescue basket to a short-haul line under the helicopter, and pilot Andy Hermansky flew to the climber’s location above the Northeast Fork.
As the ship hovered overhead, Mr. Van Brempt climbed in and secured his harness to the basket, the park reported. The helicopter then flew back to the staging camp, where the rangers and Mr. Van Brempt got on board for the flight home to Talkeetna.
The body of Joris Van Reeth remains near the base of the Cassin Ridge, and was expected to be recovered by the Park Service Friday, weather permitting.