Survival Weekly – 5/18/14

Denali National Park & Preserve (AK)
Climber Dies On Mount McKinley

One member of a two-person climbing team perished last week in an early season climbing fall on Mt. McKinley. The fatal fall likely occurred on May 5th after the two climbers became separated during a descent from Denali Pass in stormy weather.

Mike Fuchs, 34, of Berlin, Germany, and Sylvia Montag, 39, of Tacoma, Washington, began their ascent of the Muldrow Glacier route on April 15th. They reached Denali Pass at 18,200 feet on May 3rd, where they encountered strong winds that forced them to camp for two nights. 

At 11 a.m. on Monday, May 5th, Fuchs contacted rangers at the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station via satellite phone from the 17,200-foot High Camp on the West Buttress. He reported that the two had gotten separated as they descended from Denali Pass to the 17,200-foot camp. They were not roped together, nor did they have radio communications with one another.  Fuchs said they’d both been weakened by the several nights spent at Denali Pass, and that each possessed only partial survival gear.  In addition to his personal gear, Fuchs had their satellite phone and camp stove, while Montag had the tent, limited food, and her personal gear.

Due to limited visibility and high winds estimated between 40 to 60 mph, Fuchs took shelter in an NPS rescue cache, a metal storage locker for emergency supplies and equipment at 17,200 feet. He phoned back the following morning and asked for a rescue for both himself and Montag, who he hoped was camped at Denali Pass. The weather that day remained windy with low visibility and an NPS helicopter rescue was not feasible.  Furthermore, a ground rescue was not possible, as Fuchs and Montag were two of the earliest Denali climbers of the 2014 season and at the time were the only climbers above 14,200 feet on the mountain. The only NPS ranger patrol on the mountain was camped at 7,800-feet. 

On Wednesday morning, Fuchs called and reported slightly calmer winds and clear skies at 17,200 feet. He also reported that he had still not seen his climbing partner descending Denali Pass. Clouds and poor visibility below his altitude hampered a rescue that day, though a Hercules C-130 from the 210th Rescue Squadron was launched at noon by the Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage to provide aerial reconnaissance and weather reports.  The C-130 crew reported no sighting of Montag near Denali Pass.

Taking advantage of a clearing trend Wednesday evening, a mountaineering ranger and pilot flew to the pas in Denali’s high altitude A-Star B3 helicopter, with the C-130 flying as a cover aircraft.  After several passes of the area, the helicopter crew spotted Montag’s body 800 to 1,000 feet below the Denali Pass traverse on the Peters Glacier.  Fuchs was observed by the flight crew standing near his camp at 17,200 feet.

The NPS helicopter returned to the Kahiltna Basecamp at 7,200-feet to drop off the mountaineering ranger.  Pilot Andy Hermansky then flew back to the 17,200-foot camp to evacuate Fuchs using a rescue basket attached to a shorthaul line under the helicopter.  Fuchs was flown to the Kahiltna Basecamp for a medical assessment, then evacuated to Talkeetna State Airport and released. 

Sylvia Montag’s body will be recovered when an NPS ground team reaches the 17,200 foot camp.


Buffalo National Scenic River (AR)
Body Of Drowning Victim Found After Three-Day Search

On the morning of Saturday, May 3rd, a mission was launched by the park’s search and rescue team after a report was received of an overdue hunter. Family members had reported that Wilson Taylor, a well-known local Arkansas resident in his mid-forties, failed to return home from a turkey hunting trip that began early Friday morning in the Baker Ford area of the park. 

Buffalo National River SAR coordinated with Searcy County on a search of the river corridor and adjacent lands that got underway around 10 a.m. on Saturday. Taylor had been traveling by kayak to reach a well-known hunting area.

During the course of the search, some of Taylor’s personal items were recovered from the riverbanks. Plot cameras set up along the river for creel surveys by resource management staff were checked and found to contain photos of two kayakers finding Taylor’s kayak, which was tangled in brush, and taking it downriver. A helicopter which had been called in from Baxter County Sheriff’s Office and had previously been sweeping the area followed the river’s course and discovered the kayakers 31 miles downriver at Dillard’s Ferry.

The pilot landed the helicopter, made contact with the kayakers, and retrieved the kayak. Intensive foot and horseback searches were undertaken on land surfaces along both sides of the river while helicopter sweeps were made along the river corridor. Family members offered many suggestions as to likely locations based on Taylor’s recent conversations about where he had seen turkeys. 

During the next two days’ search, dive teams and drag hook teams swept the river bottom. In the afternoon on Monday a drag team hooked Taylor’s shotgun from a pool approximately a half mile upstream from where he’d launched his kayak. Dive teams were relocated to this area and within the hour an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission dive team found Taylor’s body in the same pool where the shotgun was found.

By mission’s end, over 150 civilian volunteers and personnel from almost two dozen agencies had contributed efforts to the cause.  The park expresses sincere gratitude to all of them for their indispensable cooperation. Middle Buffalo District Ranger Kevin Moses was incident commander for the first two days; FMO Fenn Wimberly was IC on the third day.

Mount Rainier National Park (WA)
Injured Climber Short-Hauled From Lane Peak

Early on the afternoon of Sunday, May 11th, a skier was hit by a large chunk of falling ice and snow in a tight gully on Lane Peak near Reflection Lake.  The skier took a tumble down the steep and narrow gully and sustained some face and neck injuries.  

Rangers and two off-duty climbing guides with friends who were nearby responded and performed a patient assessment and began medical care. The park’s short-haul helicopter was called and extricated the skier just before sunset. He was then taken by ambulance to the hospital.  

Seventeen mountain rescue volunteers also responded and were prepared to evacuate the injured man by ground if the short-haul operation became impractical.  

Ranger Esteban Monreal served as IC.

North Cascades National Park (WA)
Skier Killed In Snow Slide On Mount Shuksan

Late yesterday morning, park dispatch received a cell phone report that one of two skiers who’d been ascending the north face of Mount Shuksan for a ski tour had been hit by a snow slide and swept down the mountain. The other had narrowly avoided the slide.

Two climbing rangers were dispatched via the park’s contract helicopter to perform an aerial search and spotted the missing skier around 3:30 p.m. They determined that he hadn’t survived the fall, estimated at over 2,000 feet.

Due to the nature of the terrain and the warm weather with potential for continued unstable snow conditions, rangers were unable to recover the body yesterday. Another effort will be made today if conditions permit.

Whatcom County SAR and Bellingham Mountain Rescue also responded to the incident. 

CPR revives hiker –

Missing snowmobilers  –

Mountaineer rescued from crevasse –

Missing plane locarted –

Injured skier and hiker rescued –

NH passes legislation for a “Hiker” card –

Injured hiker rescued –

Hikers stranded in snow, rescued –

Fellow climbers assist in rescue –

Injured hiker rescued –

Search for missing canoeists continues –

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