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Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103
The search for solo Austrian climber Juergen Kanzian concluded Thursday evening, June 30 after NPS mountaineering rangers at the 14,200-foot camp located the climber’s body using a high powered spotting scope. The park’s A-Star B3 helicopter flew to the site and aerial observers confirmed the findings based on the color and style of the climber’s gear, although they were unable to land at the site due to the steep terrain. Kanzian appeared to have fallen down a steep snow and rock gully known as the Orient Express, coming to rest at an elevation of approximately 15,300 feet.
Kanzian, a 41-year-old mountaineering guide from the Alps, was last seen on skis and had told other climbers he intended to ski from the summit via the standard West Buttress route. However, during a helicopter search flight the afternoon of June 30, Kanzian’s backpack and skis were spotted in a rock outcropping near the edge of the ‘Football Field’ at 19,000 feet. It is unknown how Kanzian fell or why he diverted from his original stated plan. Weather conditions at the time of his fall included low to moderate winds, some cloud cover, temperatures near 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and several feet of new snow on the ground.
The search had begun on Wednesday, June 29 after Kanzian did not return to his tent at the 17,200-feet high camp after a summit attempt the night of June 27. In addition to ground crews with spotting scopes, two air resources flew in the search effort, including Denali’s A-Star B3 helicopter and a Pilatus PC-12 fixed wing aircraft. Aerial observers on board the two aircraft shot hundreds of high resolution photographs that were examined for clues.
Kanzian’s body will be recovered when conditions permit. This mountaineering fatality is the sixth on Mt. McKinley in 2011; three other climbing-related deaths occurred on or near other peaks in Denali National Park and Preserve this season.