What are the odds that three climbers would suffer from altitude sickness and have to be rescued by helicopter from the upper elevations of Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve...within three hours on the same day!?
That's how Monday evening played out for the mountaineering rangers at Denali. According to a park news release, the three climbers were rescued using helicopter shorthaul technique from approximately 19,000 feet on Mt. McKinley.
* NPS Ranger Tucker Chenoweth and four patrol volunteers were descending from a summit of Mt. McKinley at 7:45 pm Monday night when they encountered an ataxic solo climber at 19,300 feet. As the patrol approached, 27-year-old Serbian climber Zeljko Dulic was staggering and then collapsed due to altitude-related illness. The NPS patrol attempted to walk the climber down, however he was too ill to safely descend. At the time, the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter was at the Kahiltna Basecamp having just completed flights related to a resource management project. After a high altitude reconnaissance flight, Pilot Andy Hermansky flew to the sick climber and Chenoweth secured the patient to the end of the shorthaul rope using a ‘screamer suit’ or fabric harness for the flight to the 14,200-foot camp.
* While this rescue was in progress, a second individual, 22-year-old Sho Tamagawa of Japan, approached the NPS patrol and similarly collapsed due to altitude sickness. Again, the patient, who was also travelling solo, was non-ambulatory. The A-Star B3 helicopter returned to 19,300 feet and shorthauled the second patient to 14,200-foot camp using the screamer suit. Once at the camp, the helicopter landed and internally loaded the two patients for evacuation to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200 feet.
* Meanwhile, Ranger Chenoweth and his patrol members had continued their descent only to encounter a third non-ambulatory, semi-conscious climber at 18,700 feet. Masaaki Kobayasi, age 20 of Japan was a member of the same original expedition as Tamagawa, though was travelling solo when found. After a rapid medical assessment, it was again determined that a helicopter rescue was necessary. Hermansky returned to 18,700-feet for the third rescue at about 10:40 pm, then shorthauled the patient to 14,200-feet, internally loaded him, and then flew him to the Kahiltna Basecamp.
According to the park release, Ranger Chenoweth’s "cold and tired patrol descended to the 17,200-foot camp without further incident."
Of the three rescued climbers, two were transported to an area hospital via LifeMed air ambulance. Mr. Dulic refused further medical treatment and was released from care at Basecamp.
As of Tuesday, 556 climbers were attempting Mt. McKinley. A total of 251 climbers had completed their trip, 54 percent of whom reached the summit, according to park statistics. Due to warming temperatures and some modest snowfall, park officials say the climbing conditions at high elevations have improved since four climbers died as a result of falls in mid- to late May.