St. Paul Man Among 6 Climbers Presumed Dead on Mount Rainier

Updated: 06/02/2014 7:59 AM
Created: 05/31/2014 7:41 PM
By: Megan Stewart

A St. Paul man is one of six climbers missing on Mount Rainier in Washington, according to family.

The climbers missing on Mount Rainier are presumed dead after helicopters detected pings from emergency beacons buried in the snow thousands of feet below their last known location, a national park official said Saturday.

Rob Mahaney said his 26-year-old nephew, Mark Mahaney of St. Paul, is one of the missing.

Mark Mahaney, a Prior Lake High School graduate, is an experienced climber. This is his second time on Mount Rainier, family said.

Rob Mahaney said his brother and other nephew flew out to Seattle Saturday afternoon to wait for updates from recovery crews.

Park Ranger Fawn Bauer said the helicopter crew also spotted camping and climbing gear in an avalanche-prone area more than 3,000 feet below the group's last known whereabouts. The six were at 12,800 feet at last contact Wednesday.

"There's not a viable chance of survival," Bauer said.

Air and ground searches were suspended late Saturday afternoon. The bodies won't be recovered Sunday because they are in an extremely dangerous area, where snow, ice and rock fall constantly, Bauer said.

"It would expose our rangers to pretty extreme conditions, so we are not able to do any kind of ground searching of that area," she said. "And, in all honesty, we may never be able to get on the ground there."

The missing group includes four clients of Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International and two guides. They were due to return from the mountain on Friday. When they did not return, the climbing company notified park officials, Bauer said.

Mount Rainier, southeast of Seattle, stands at 14,410 feet and attracts thousands of climbers trying to reach its summit every year.

The search for the missing climbers focused on the northwest shoulder of the mountain at the Liberty Ridge area, near where they were last heard from, Bauer said. Saturday's search included a team of three climbing rangers on the ground and flyovers with a Hughes helicopter. An Army Chinook helicopter then joined the search from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The group was scheduled to reach the summit of Mount Rainier on Thursday, with a day to climb down.

Snow flurries and hail hit the mountain Wednesday, Bauer said, but the weather has been clear since then.

Bauer said Saturday's weather was perfect for searching and ground crews checked "every possible area" where someone could have sought refuge in the storm.

In a statement from the park, the guides were described as skilled.

In a blog post on the Alpine Ascents website Thursday, the post said the team had turned around at 13,000 feet during their attempt to reach the summit because of weather conditions. The blog post said all team members were well.

Patti Wold of Mount Rainier National Park issued the following statement Saturday:

Searchers located climbing gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons at the top of the Carbon Glacier at 9,500 feet in elevation during an extensive search for six missing climbers today. All indications point toward a fall of 3,300 feet from near the party’s last known location at 12,800 feet on Liberty Ridge. There is no viable chance of survival from such a fall. The Liberty Ridge route is one of the more technical and advanced routes on the mountain.

The area the avalanche beacons were detected on the Carbon Glacier is extremely dangerous due to continuous rock and ice fall. At this point there are no plans to put people on the ground at the site because of the ongoing hazards. In the weeks and months to come the site will be checked periodically by aircraft. As snow melts and conditions change potential opportunities for a helicopter-based recovery will continue to be evaluated. There is no certainty that recovery is possible given the location.

“This accident represents a horrific loss for our guide partners and the families and loved ones of every one of the climbers lost on the mountain” stated Superintendent Randy King. “The climbing community is a small one and a close one and a loss of this magnitude touches many. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragic accident.”

The party, consisting of two skilled climbing guides and four clients, began their climb on Monday, May 26, and was due out on Friday, May 30th. Alpine Ascents last spoke with their guides on Wednesday at 6:00 pm by satellite phone. At that time the party was at 12,800 feet with plans to overnight. Alpine Ascents reported the party missing at 4:30 pm on Friday, May 30th, when they failed to return to the trailhead as expected.

A ground search of the Liberty Ridge route and the Bergschrund was conducted by a team of three Mount Rainier National Park climbing rangers. The US Army Reserve 214th Air Division out of Joint Base Lewis McChord and Northwest Helicopters conducted the air search working with park rangers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Facebook/Mark Mahaney
National Park Service photo shows the area where the climbers fell on Mount Rainier.
Photo: KOMO/National Parks Service

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