Group of 12 stranded mountaineers rescued from Wrangell-St. Elias glacier

A rocky, snowy mountain
Mt. Bona reaches 16,550 feet in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (wanderflechten/Creative Commons)

A group of 12 mountaineers were rescued Tuesday from a glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park by the Alaska Air and Army National Guard.  

Alaska Rescue Coordination Center Director Lt. Colonel Keenan Zerkel said the St. Elias Guides climbing party initially called for help Saturday, reporting two of the mountaineers were suffering altitude sickness. Zerkel said the party hunkered down at about 10,000 feet, after abandoning an attempt to summit 16,000-foot Mt. Bona due to bad weather.  

“Continuous snowfall, high winds, you know, all the conditions conducive to hypothermia and everything else,” he said.

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Zerkel said the extreme conditions thwarted repeated efforts to reach the climbers until late Tuesday, when a high-altitude Chinook helicopter team was able to make it in.

“The winds died down enough that they thought an attempt was possible, so they took off and were able to get in and pick up all 12 individuals in one lift,” he said.

Zerkel said three of the climbers had minor injuries including one with frostbite.

“It became an issue of get[ting] them out of there now before there are serious injuries that will develop, so I guess a bit of preventative medicine if you want to think of it like that,” he said.

Zerkel said the three injured climbers were transported on to Anchorage for care, and the others were dropped off in McCarthy.

He described a drawn-out rescue operation including 80 hours of flight time involving Air and Army National Guard planes and helicopters and crews, supported by the National Park Service, local businesses, and individuals.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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