No 'viable chance of survival' for climbers on Washington mountain

Manuel Valdes / The Associated Press
May 31, 2014 06:18 PM

This photo provided by the National Parks Service, shows the Liberty Ridge Area of Mount Rainier as viewed from the Carbon Glacier, Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Washington state. Six 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. (AP Photo/National Park Service)

SEATTLE - Six climbers in the U.S. are presumed dead after helicopters detected pings from emergency beacons buried in the snow far down the slope from their last known location, a Mount Rainier National Park official said Saturday.

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

The helicopter crew spotted camping and climbing gear in an avalanche-prone area more than 3,000 feet (914 metres) below the group's last known whereabouts, she said.

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

The missing group includes four clients of Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International and two guides. They were due to return from the mountain Friday.

Mount Rainier, southeast of Seattle, stands at 14,410 feet (4,390 metres) and attracts thousands of climbers every year.

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.

Alpine Ascents' director of programs, Gordon Janow, said he wasn't ready to release information about the climbers.

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 (3,960 metres) during their attempt to reach the summit because of weather conditions. The blog post said all team members were well.

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