Bodies of 3 missing climbers retrieved from Mount Rainier

Bodies of 3 missing climbers retrieved from Mount Rainier
This May 31, 2014, National Park Service photo shows the area where the climbers fell on Mount Rainier.
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. - The bodies of three climbers who died in a fall on Mount Rainier in May were removed Tuesday from a debris field on the Carbon Glacier, below Liberty Ridge, park officials said.

The bodies were spotted two weeks ago during a training flight in the area after recent warm weather melted some of the ice and snow in the debris field and exposed the remains, said Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold.

But removal of the bodies was delayed because the area where the climbers fell is considered one of the most hazardous and unstable on the mountain, Wold said, due to rock and ice fall off Willis Wall and an increase in new crevasses in Carbon Glacier below

Mount Rainier park staff, working with personnel from Northwest Helicopters, developed a plan to mitigate the risk involved in retrieving the bodies from the highly dangerous location and carried it out Tuesday, she said.

A helicopter used a remote controlled grabber device mounted from a 100-foot long line. Eight park rangers participated in the planning and execution of the operation.

Authorities believe the six people in the climbing party fell 3,300 feet during their climb during the last week of May. During the initial search, crews found gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons buried in the snow at the top of Carbon Glacier at 9,500 feet. It's unknown whether a rock fall or avalanche was to blame for the fall.

No signs of the other three missing climbers were encountered during Tuesday's retrieval operation.

The three bodies recovered are believed to be members of the missing party, and the Pierce County Medical Examiner will provide final identification, Wold said.

All six people were experienced climbers who were taking a technical, challenging route to the top of the 14,410-foot mountain southeast of Seattle. Known as the Liberty Ridge route, it is not currently being climbed due to unstable conditions caused by increased rock and icefall from warm weather, Wold said.

Last year, about 10,800 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier and only 129 used the Liberty Ridge route, according to park statistics. The vast majority use two other popular routes.

The missing climbers had traveled from as far away as Singapore, Minnesota and New York to ascend the glacial peak. Members of the group were Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International guides Matthew Hegeman and Eitan Green; Erik Britton Kolb, a 34-year-old finance manager at American Express, who had traveled from New York; Uday Marty, a vice president and managing director of Intel in Southeast Asia who was based in Singapore; Seattle mountain climber John Mullally; and Mark Mahaney, of St. Paul, Minnesota.