ANCHORAGE - A shallow avalanche on Alaska’s Mount McKinley may not have killed four Japanese climbers, but the slide pushed them into a crevasse more than 100 feet deep, the National Park Service said Sunday.
Spokeswoman Kris Fister said that the search for the climbers was permanently suspended after a mountaineering ranger found the climbing rope in debris at the bottom of the crevasse.
“We believe this is their final resting place,’’ Fister said.
Yoshiaki Kato, 64, Masako Suda, 50, Michiko Suzuki 56, Tamao Suzuki, 63, are missing and presumed dead.
The avalanche early Wednesday morning also pushed Hitoshi Ogi, 69, into the crevasse. Ogi climbed 60 feet out of the crevasse and reached a base camp Thursday.
‘We believe this is their final resting place.’Kris Fister National Park Service spokeswoman
Ogi had been attached to the other members of the team by climbing rope as they descended in an avalanche-prone section of the West Buttress Route. The rope broke in the avalanche and fall.
The group was on a section known as Motorcycle Hill at about 11,800 feet, which has a 35-degree slope. Climbers who take a required briefing on the mountain are warned of the avalanche danger there.
“This is the first time there have been fatalities,’’ Fister said Sunday.
The avalanche, likely caused by new snow falling on rock or hardened snow and ice, measured 200 feet wide and 800 feet top to bottom, Fisher said. It created a snow pile averaging only 3 to 4 feet deep.
A 10-person ground crew searched for the climbers Saturday. The patrol included a rescue dog and a handler. The crew probed the avalanche debris zone and found no sign of the missing climbers.
Park Service mountaineering ranger Tucker Chenoweth, however, found grim signs of the doomed climbing team in the crevasse below where Ogi had fallen.
He descended about 100 feet, and while probing through debris, found the other end of Ogi’s rope. He continued to dig but found compacted ice and snow debris.
The danger of falling ice made it too dangerous to continue an attempt to recover the bodies, Fister said.
All the climbers were members of the Japanese alpine club Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation.
Ogi suffered a minor hand injury, according to the Park Service. He was flown off the mountain Thursday.
In the West Buttress Route, the climbers were attempting the busiest approach during the height of mountaineering season. Climbers took the route on 92 percent of attempts on Mount McKinley in 2011.
The Park Service said that nearly 400 people were on the Alaska mountain during the weekend.
Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, is North America’s tallest peak at 20,320 feet.
While not a particularly tall peak by global standards, its latitude makes for far thinner air than is found in mountains closer to the equator. That, combined with the weather and temperatures, makes it a particularly dangerous climb.
Four people died on the mountain in 2009 and again in 2010. At least five people died in 2011 on Mount McKinley.