|Monday, Jun 18, 2012|
An avalanche on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress during the early morning hours of June 14th is presumed to have claimed the lives of four Japanese climbers. The five-member Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation (MWAF) expedition was descending Motorcycle Hill near 11,800 feet at 2 a.m. last Thursday morning when an avalanche swept them all downhill. The five were travelling as one rope team, although the rope broke during the avalanche. One team member survived the event. Hitoshi Ogi, 69 of Miyagi Prefecture, was swept into a crevasse and subsequently climbed out with minor injuries. Ogi was unable to locate his teammates in the avalanche debris. Throughout the day, he descended solo to the Kahiltna base camp at 7,200 feet, where he reported the accident shortly after 4 p.m. That evening, two rangers flew to the avalanche path in the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter to conduct an aerial hasty search. There was no sign of the missing climbers or their gear in the avalanche debris. In light of the time elapsed, it is presumed that the four perished in the accident. Rangers and volunteers began probing the debris zone on Friday to look for signs of the climbers. The four missing climbers are Yoshiaki Kato, 64, Masako Suda, 50, Michiko Suzuki, 56, and Tamao Suzuki, 63. All are from Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. As of June 16th, there were 395 mountaineers attempting routes on Mt. McKinley, the majority on the West Buttress route. Out of the 630 climbers who have already returned from expeditions this season, 234 reported reaching the summit, equating to a 37% summit rate. Substantial snowfall and windy conditions in recent weeks have kept most climbers from reaching the top.