Unknown Illness, Alaska, Mt. McKinley

Publication Year: 1980.


Alaska, Mt. McKinley

On July 27 at 5 p.m., I was contacted by Cliff Hudson of Hudson Air Service, Talkeetna, reporting a sick Japanese climber at 16,000 feet on the West Rib of Mt. McKinley. Ranger Bob Gerhard, on patrol at 16,000 feet on the West Buttress became aware of the problem by CB radio and called Park Headquarters on the single side band radio at 6 p.m. At this time we learned that the party in trouble was a party of four Japanese (Aichi Gakuin University, Ouzaki) climbing a new route between the West Rib and Cassin Ridge and were approximately 5,000 meters up. Language difficulties made it difficult to get any more detailed information except that one climber was sick and would “die tonight“ if not rescued.

I was unable to get a helicopter through Akland Helicopters, Inc. in Talkeetna, or through OAS that was capable of high altitude evacuation. I then called RCC (Major Allred). At 7:10 p.m., two Chinook helicopters were gearing up at Fort Wainwright and flew to the mountain, arriving in marginal daylight around 11:30 p.m. At this hour it was too late to accomplish a rescue, so they retreated to Talkeetna for the evening. (At this time Rangers Gerhard and Hartzell had retreated to the 14,200-foot camp to coordinate the rescue from that point and to be available for a pickup by the military at that camp. Contact was kept open between headquarters and Gerhard via a single side band system.)

On July 28 at 10:30 a.m. the Chinooks took off from Talkeetna, picked up Gerhard at 14,200 feet, and then flew to the area above the Japanese. Unexpected helicopter problems caused a retreat to Talkeetna to await troubleshooting and possible replacement helicopter. At this time the possibility of obtaining another Chinook through the military was doubtful, so a Bell 205 that OAS had obtained on standby at 9 a.m. was sent to Talkeetna, arriving at 5 p.m.

About 8 p.m. the military, using a new Chinook, headed toward the mountain to attempt a rescue and to drop food and fuel for the remaining climbers. Gerhard outlined contingency plans for either direct aid rescue with climbers, or use of the Bell 205, assuming the military was unsuccessful.

At midnight, I received a call from Gerhard in Talkeetna. He reported that the military had successfully rescued Mitsuyasu Hamatani (22), the ill climber, and had flown him to Providence Hospital.

On July 30, I contacted Providence and found that Hamatani had been released from the hospital at 4 a.m. on July 29 in good condition. (Source: Tony Sisto, Mt. McKinley National Park)


This narrative is included to demonstrate the number of hours and the costs involved in responding to incidents on Mt. McKinley. The problem is compounded when communications break down and when there proves to be no apparent need for rescue. (Source: J. Williamson)

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