4 Japanese climbers presumed dead, one survives after Mount McKinley avalanche

Climbers hike Friday near an area where an avalanche the day before swept up a Japanese team descending from Mount McKinley.

Associated Press

Climbers hike Friday near an area where an avalanche the day before swept up a Japanese team descending from Mount McKinley.

One member of a Japanese climbing team survived and four others are presumed dead after an avalanche swept them off a hill during their descent from Mount McKinley in Alaska.

U.S. National Park Service officials said five people were traveling as one rope team early Thursday as part of a Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation expedition.

Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said Hitoshi Ogi, 69, survived after falling 60 feet into a crevasse. He was able to climb out.

The other four tumbled into the avalanche debris and haven't been seen since. The climbers are presumed dead by either snow burial or injuries suffered in falls.

Snowfall and wind have impeded a search for the climbers.

Hitoshi told Park Service employees that the climbers were descending the mountain together when the avalanche began, McLaughlin said. They sped up, trying to get down the mountain faster, but the rope connecting them broke when the avalanche struck.

Hitoshi was the lowest person on the rope team. He looked for the other four but couldn't find them.

"He wasn't sure of all the events," McLaughlin said, adding that Hitoshi spoke through a translator and was exhausted.

The four missing climbers include 64-year-old Yoshiaki Kato, 50-year-old Masako Suda, 56-year-old Michiko Suzuki, and 63-year-old Tamao Suzuki.

There was new snow on the route, but the weather on Thursday was calm, McLaughlin said, calling the avalanche "an unlucky, random event."

"Avalanches do occur in this vicinity, but it's not common," she said.

The climbers were attempting the busiest route, West Buttress, during the height of mountaineering season. The Park Service said in a news release that nearly 400 people were on the Alaska mountain on Saturday.

Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, is America's tallest peak. Four people died on the mountain in 2009 and again in 2010. At least five died in 2011.

4 Japanese climbers presumed dead, one survives after Mount McKinley avalanche 06/16/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 16, 2012 10:34pm]

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