Three Japanese climbers trapped on Mount McKinley by hurricane-force winds were presumed dead Saturday and the search for their bodies was called off by the National Park Service.
The Japanese climbers, attempting a rare winter ascent, were last seen 16 days ago by a group of Austrian climbers descending the 20,320-foot mountain after reaching the summit. Fierce winds at the 17,000-foot level were forcing the Japanese to hole up.Rescuers assumed the climbers ran out of food and probably water several days ago. At such high elevations a person can die in a few days without water.
Since record-keeping began, 58 climbers have died on the mountain.
The Japanese climbers were group leader Noboru Yamada, 39, Teruo Saegusa, 31, and Kozo Komatsu, 34. All were from Tokyo.
"The search has been called off," park service spokesman John Quinley said late Saturday. "The presumption is that the three Japanese climbers have perished on the mountain."
A break in the weather allowed rescuers to fly over the mountain Friday and Saturday. On Friday, pilots spotted three red or orange objects that rescuers thought might be the tents or climbing suits of the three experienced climbers. Rescue crews, however, saw no movement on the mountain.
Conditions for flying are not supposed to improve in the next several days, said Quinley, but conditions on the mountain surface were such that climbers could have emerged from their snow caves for the first time in more than two weeks.
"It was not a bad day for climbers," Quinley said Saturday.