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Contact: Maureen McLaughlin, (907) 733-9103
The guided client rescued from 19,500-feet had broken a leg when the 4-person rope team fell near the summit ridge of Mt. McKinley very late on Wednesday or early Thursday. After the fall, the team’s guide secured the injured climber in a bivy sack at the ‘Football Field’ while the other two clients descended. By morning, the guide and one of the two uninjured clients had separately descended to the 17,200-foot high camp where they were treated by another team for frostbite to the hands and feet. The third client never returned to high camp.
At the request of the National Park Service, the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard launched a HC-130 aircraft from the 211th Rescue Squadron on Thursday morning in an effort to spot the injured and missing climbers. Pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron on board the HC-130 spotted the client with the broken leg at 19,500-feet, though they were unable to definitively verify the location of the other client.
Winds gusted to 70 mph throughout the day on Thursday, and Denali National Park’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter was unable to safely fly above 14,200 feet. However, by 5:00 pm that evening 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.
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.
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. 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, currently remain at the 17,200-foot camp. The names of all climbers involved in the incident are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.