A break in 70 mph winds Thursday evening allowed search-and-rescue personnel to rescue an injured climber at 19,500 feet on Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park, though another member of the climbing party was found dead on the mountain.
The rescue effort was launched after a team of four climbers -- a guide and three clients -- fell either very late Wednesday or early Thursday while descended near the summit ridge of the mountain. One of the clients broke a leg in the fall, a park release said.
The guide apparently then directed the other two clients to head down to McKinley's 17,200-foot "high camp" while treating the injured individual. After the guide secured the
injured climber in a bivy sack at the ‘Football Field,' he too headed down to the high camp. However, only the guide and one of the two uninjured clients made it to the camp, where they were treated by another team for frostbite to the hands and feet, park officials said. After a call for help was made via satellite phone, an HC-130 aircraft from the Alaska Air National Guard's 211th Rescue Squadron headed to the mountain about 8 a.m. Thursday to look for the injured and missing climbers.
"By mid-morning, two para-rescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron personnel on board the HC-130 spotted the client with the broken leg at 19,500-feet. The individual was observed waving to the aircraft," the park release said. "The other client that was last seen at 18,300 feet was possibly spotted above Denali Pass, although the pararescuemen were unable to confirm movement or verify it was the client in question."
Winds gusted to 70 mph throughout the day Thursday, and Denali National Park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter was unable to safely fly above 14,200 feet. However, by 5 p.m. the winds subsided and both the HC-130 aircraft and the NPS helicopter were able to make a reconnaissance flight up high on the mountain. The helicopter pilot and an NPS ranger verified the location and status of the injured climber at 19,500-feet, and for the first time rescue personnel were able to confirm the location of the second climber above 18,000 feet, park officials said.
"With a rescue basket secured to the end of a 125-foot rope, A-Star B3 helicopter pilot Andy Hermansky returned to the climber at 19,500 feet. The injured client was able to climb into the basket as the helicopter hovered overhead. Once the patient was secure in the basket, the helicopter flew down to the Kahiltna Basecamp to an awaiting LifeMed air ambulance for transport to Anchorage," the officials said.
"Next, the A-Star B3 helicopter returned to the site of the climber near 18,000 feet, this time with NPS mountaineering ranger Kevin Wright on the end of the 125-foot shorthaul line," the report continued. "Helicopter pilot Hermansky hovered while Ranger Wright set down adjacent to the climber and buckled him into a canvas sling known as a ‘screamer suit’. The climber was flown on the end of the shorthaul line to the Kahiltna Basecamp. The patient showed no obvious signs of life during the shorthaul flight. The patient was transferred to a CH-47 ‘Chinook’ helicopter from the 52nd Aviation Regiment out of Ft. Wainwright for a more thorough medical assessment. Two NPS ranger medics, also on board the CH-47, confirmed that the climber had died. The cause of death is unknown at this time."
The guide and the client, both of whom suffer from frostbite, remained at the 17,200-foot camp. The names of all climbers involved in the incident are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.