OLYMPIA, Wash. – It may be weeks or months – if ever – before rescuers can get on the ground to search for six climbers who likely plummeted to their deaths high on snow-capped Mount Rainier in Washington state.
Park rangers and rescuers often are able to retrieve bodies within days of an accident, but sometimes it takes much longer, until conditions have improved and snow has melted on parts of the mountain.
Occasionally victims are never found, as in the case of 11 people swept to their deaths in an ice fall in 1981 in Mount Rainier’s deadliest accident. The same is true of a non-alpine accident in which a cargo transport plane crashed into the mountain in 1946 – the bodies of 32 Marines remain entombed.
“The mountain is so inaccessible and can be inhospitable. We can’t always retrieve everybody who is lost there, unfortunately,” said Patti Wold, a spokeswoman with Mount Rainier National Park.
The bodies of the two guides and four climbers who fell to their deaths last week on the 14,410-foot glaciated peak may never be recovered because of the hazardous terrain, authorities say.
“The degree of risk in that area, due to the rock fall and ice fall that’s continuously coming down from that cliff onto the area where the fall ended, we cannot put anybody on the ground,” Wold said.
It’s unclear whether the climbers were moving or camping when they fell, Wold has said. Searchers located camping and climbing gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons buried in the snow at the top of the Carbon Glacier at 9,500 feet in elevation.
It’s also not known what caused the climbers to fall from their last known location at 12,800 feet, whether it was rock fall or an avalanche. They were last heard from Wednesday evening when the guides checked in with their Seattle-based company, Alpine Ascents International, by satellite phone. The group failed to return Friday as planned.
The identities of five of the climbers have emerged. Intel Corp. spokesman Bill Calder confirmed Monday that his colleague Uday Marty, a vice-president and managing director of Intel in Southeast Asia, was among the group.
Marty, who was based in Singapore, was “widely loved and respected at this company,” Calder told The Associated Press.
According to his biography on Intel’s website, Marty managed sales and marketing in the region and had previously worked at headquarters in Santa Clara, California. He joined the company in 1996.
Alpine Ascents identified the two guides on its website. Matthew Hegeman, the lead guide, was described as philosophical with a good sense of humour.
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Eitan Green, the other guide, loved his time in the mountains and was a strong leader, the website said. Officials at Maine’s Colby College said Green was a 2009 graduate. A memorial service for the Massachusetts native is scheduled for June 5 in Brookline, Massachusetts.
The Seattle Times reported Monday that Seattle mountain climber John Mullally was one of the six who died. His wife, Holly Mullally, issued a statement Monday saying she had previously been on climbs with Alpine Ascents.
“John was an amazing husband, father, friend, mountaineer, and all around human being,” Holly Mullally wrote.
Rob Mahaney said his 26-year-old nephew, Mark Mahaney, of St. Paul, Minnesota, was among those presumed dead. Mahaney said his nephew had climbed Rainier before.
The area will be checked periodically by air in the coming weeks and months, Wold said. They will also evaluate a possible helicopter-based recovery as snow melts and conditions change.
Bodies have been recovered on Mount Rainier long after accidents, including multiple victims brought off the mountain about eight months after they disappeared during 2012 storms.
In 2001, the body of a 27-year-old doctor was discovered more than two years after he vanished while snowboarding. That same year, the remains of three men were removed from the mountain after being entombed there for nearly 30 years after their small plane crashed.
Associated Press writers Phuong Le in Seattle and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
© The Canadian Press, 2014