Two British soldiers trapped on the upper reaches of North America's highest peak for four bitter nights were plucked to safety in a dramatic helicopter rescue Monday, park rangers said.
Martin Spooner, 35, and Carl Bougard, 35, members of an ill-fated military expedition, were reported in good condition suffering from minor injuries after being brought down from their perch at 19,000 feet, near Mount McKinley's 20,320-foot summit.Using a high-altitude Lama helicopter, rescuers brought the men to safety at a mountain rangers' camp farther down the peak, from where they were flown to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage. Bougard was being treated for frostbite to both feet and Spooner was treated for an ankle injury and released, hospital officials said.
Bad weather had prevented rescuers from reaching the pair, stranded since an accident Thursday. But a helicopter spotted them standing and waving late Sunday during a weather break and dropped supplies before preparing for the rescue Monday.
"I think they obviously got very lucky," said park spokeswoman Jane Tranel. She said it was nothing short of amazing that the pair survived more than three days with no food and little shelter.
At the spot where the climbers were stranded, temperatures dropped to 25 degrees below zero and winds howled at up to 80 miles per hour.
In one of the highest helicopter rescues on record, pilot Jim Hood reached the climbers about 3 a.m. and lowered special "screamer suits" using a 100-foot-long line. The climbers got into the suits, attached themselves to the line and were flown dangling from the helicopter to about 14,200 feet.
The rescue capped four days of round-the-clock efforts to save seven British and American climbers injured in three separate falls.
American Jeff Munroe, 25, of Anchorage was in critical condition suffering from a head injury.
His climbing partner, Bill Finley, 24 and also of Anchorage, was treated for injuries to his chest, ribs, ankle and knee.
The Alaska pair fell about 2,500 feet down the notoriously treacherous gully known as the "Orient Express" for the many Asian climbers who have died there.
The British climbers were reported in good condition, including two whom rangers witnessed falling nearly 2,000 feet down the Orient Express Friday night.
The Britons were part of a "Summit to Sea" expedition that intended to climb McKinley, then kayak and raft three interconnecting rivers from the mountain's base to the sea at Cook Inlet, the Park Service said.
The expedition ran into trouble as they neared the crest of the Orient Express during their ascent, Swed said. There, three roped climbers fell about 300 feet.
Some of the climbers went for help, and came across the fallen Alaskans, Park Service officials said.
Seventy-two people were involved in the rescue, including park rangers, U.S. Army and Air National Guard crews and climbers on the mountain who volunteered their services, Swed said.
Cost of the rescue was estimated at $70,000, he said.