SEATTLE (AP) — A helicopter equipped with a mechanical claw plucked the bodies of three climbers from a glacier on Mount Rainier, in the same area where six went missing in late May, the National Park Service said Wednesday.
A crew on a training flight spotted the bodies in an avalanche debris field Aug. 7 after they were exposed by melting snow, but the area, at the 9,500-foot level on the Carbon Glacier, was considered risky for a typical recovery operation. Warm weather has led to more ice and rock falls as well as the opening of new crevasses, making it one of the most hazardous spots on the 14,410-foot volcano, said park spokeswoman Patti Wold.
So instead, rangers teamed up with Olympia-based NorthWest Helicopters on Tuesday to use the mechanical grabber on loan from Denali National Park in Alaska. It was mounted at the end of 100-foot-long line, saving crews from having to lower a mountaineering ranger down to the glacier.
"It's got three or four prongs that open and close," Wold said. "Those games in the grocery store where you use the claw to grab the toys — it operates similar to that, but much bigger and more heavy duty."
The six, all experienced mountaineers, included two guides and four climbers. They went missing the last week of May on a technical, dangerous and little-used route up Liberty Ridge. Authorities believe they fell 3,300 feet.
The climbers had traveled from as far away as Singapore to ascend the glacial peak. Members of the group were Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International guides Matthew Hegeman and Eitan Green; Erik Britton Kolb, a 34-year-old finance manager at American Express, who had traveled from New York; Uday Marty, a vice president and managing director of Intel in Southeast Asia who was based in Singapore; Seattle mountain climber John Mullally; and Mark Mahaney, of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Last year, about 10,800 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier and only 129 used the Liberty Ridge route, according to park statistics.
While the Park Service believes the bodies recovered are those of members of the missing party, official confirmation will come from the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office, Wold said.
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