Partner Evacuated from Cassin Ridge
Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 773-9103
Denali National Park rescue personnel took advantage of a break in the clouds to evacuate Belgian climber Sam Van Brempt from the base of the Cassin Ridge around midnight Thursday June 10. Van Brempt was awaiting rescue since Monday, June 7, 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, 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.
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.
At approximately 9:30 p.m. Thursday night, two NPS volunteers staged at the 9,500-foot level on the Kahiltna Glacier, a comparable elevation relative to 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 shorthaul line under the helicopter, and pilot Andy Hermansky flew to the climber’s location above the Northeast Fork. As the ship hovered overhead, Van Brempt climbed in and secured his harness to the basket. The helicopter then flew back to the staging camp, where the rangers and 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 is expected to be recovered by the NPS on Friday, June 11, weather permitting.
Did You Know?
Warmer temperatures have led to dramatic thawing of permafrost. Thaw releases carbon, as once-frozen materials decompose, but allows increased plant growth. Researchers in Denali are studying whether thawing permafrost will increase or decrease world-wide carbon emissions.