Four Japanese climbers believed dead in Alaska avalanche

Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:10pm GMT

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Four Japanese climbers are presumed dead after they were swept up by a powerful avalanche on Alaska's Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak, the National Park Service said on Saturday.

Authorities said one man in the group survived and hiked down to get help. The avalanche struck early on Thursday, but searchers working that day and on Friday found no bodies or climbing gear, the Park Service said.

"We say ‘presumed dead' because we haven't found their bodies," said Maureen McLaughlin, spokeswoman for Denali National Park, where the mountain is located. "We are still up there looking today."

If all four are dead, it would be the worst climbing accident on McKinley since 1992, when four Canadian climbers were killed in a fall, McLaughlin said.

The missing climbers were identified as Yoshiaki Kato, 64; Masako Suda, 50; Michiko Suzuki, 56; and Tamao Suzuki, 63. All are from Miyagi Prefecture in Japan, the Park Service said. They were part of a five-member Miyagi Workers Alpine Federation expedition, and were descending at the time of the accident.

The sole survivor in the group was Hitoshi Ogi, 69, also from Miyagi Prefecture, the Park Service said.

The avalanche struck on McKinley's West Buttress route, the most commonly used path to climb up and down the mountain. The site was about 11,800 feet (3,600 meters) up the 20,320-foot (6,200-meter) mountain, at a point called "Motorcycle Hill."

The area is fairly steep, with a slope of about 35 degrees, and prone to avalanches. But there had not been any avalanche fatalities there until now, McLaughlin said.   Continued...

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