ANCHORAGE, Alaska — 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 30 meters deep, the National Park Service said Sunday.
Spokeswoman Kris Fister said Sunday from Talkeetna 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, and 63-year-old Tamao Suzuki, 63, all from Miyagi Prefecture, are missing and presumed dead.
The avalanche early Wednesday also pushed Hitoshi Ogi, 69, into the crevasse. Ogi climbed 18 meters out of the crevasse and reached a base camp Thursday afternoon.
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 an elevation of about 3,600 meters. The hill has a 35-degree slope. Climbers who take a required briefing on the mountain are warned of the avalanche danger.
“This is the first time there have been fatalities,” Fister said.
The avalanche likely was set up by new snow that fell on rock or hardened snow and ice, Fister said. No climber reached the summit between June 8 and the day of the fall five days later, because of falling snow and wind that limited visibility, Fister said.
The avalanche was 60 meters wide and 250 meters from top to bottom, Fisher said.
A 10-member ground crew searched for the climbers Saturday and at first concentrated on the avalanche debris. The patrol included a rescue dog and a handler. Probes turned up no sign of the missing climbers.
“We weren’t certain originally,” Fister said. “That’s why we were probing through the snowfield itself. Then when we had the chance to go further into the same crevasse that he (Ogi) had fallen into, they started going further in, probing. Again, there was a lot of ice debris that had fallen into it.”
Park Service mountaineering ranger Tucker Chenoweth found a grim sign of the doomed climbing team in the crevasse. Ogi had emerged from the crevasse with much of his gear missing, and Chenoweth spotted equipment as he descended.