American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall Into Crevasse and Fall Into Crevasse, Unroped, Inadequate Equipment, Inexperience, Washington, Mount Rainier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984


Washington, Mount Rainier

This report tells of two accidents which occurred within the same climbing party at 3300 meters on their descent of Mount Rainier.

A party of six climbers from The Mountaineers, led by Bill Beineke, started up the closed road to the White River Campground at 1030 on May 28, 1983. They walked up the trail to Glacier Basin. They then walked up the Inter Glacier unroped. Maria Chan-Sew (31) stated that Beineke thought this would be safe. They climbed to Steamboat Prow and descended the gully to Camp Schurman. After nine and a half hours, they arrived at Camp Schurman at 1900. They talked about the next day’s climb and planned to leave at 0300. Stan Payzer was tired, described as “out of gas.” Chris Blight (25) complained to Beineke of not feeling too good with kind of a stomachache. Blight was not sure if he would climb the next day. The rest of the party had no complaints.

The leader overslept the 0300 planned start time on May 29, so the climb began at 0447. Beineke kept the party at a slow pace. Blight described himself as feeling much better that day. The party stopped for food and water quite often while two groups in front of them kicked steps. The route taken went right to the top of the corridor. All six members of the Beineke party made it to the summit. It was windy and cold on the summit. They took a break and ate.

They started their descent about 1430. On the way down Cathy Hayter led the first rope of Chan-Sew and Beineke. The second team was Lisa Beineke, Payzer, and Blight. Hayter talked with members of the Kirschner party, who warned her of a not-obvious crevasse at 3300 meters where they could break through some. Hayter kept looking for this crevasse while descending.

About 1700 Hayter crossed over the crevasse. It was wanded, although the party did not know which direction it was running. Hayter warned the party of the possible danger. B. Beineke looked at the site and asked Chan-Sew to cross the area farther up slope where he believed it to be safer. While crossing and testing the snow bridge, Chan-Sew fell through. Both Hayter and B. Beineke went into a self-arrest with their ice axes. They stopped Chan-Sew’s fall about 12 meters into the crevasse.

(Chan-Sew likely had a twisted left ankle at this time, but did not realize it.) Chan- Sew found herself hanging from the climbing rope upside down. She could not right herself because she had a heavy pack on and did not realize it should come off. The crevasse was seven to eight meters wide and Chan-Sew could not touch the walls. She was hanging free and upside down.

The second rope team of L. Beineke, Payzer and Blight arrived at the site. They assisted in stabilizing the anchor that held Chan-Sew. They unroped, hoping to use their rope to right her. They made several attempts to lower the second rope to Chan-Sew, but were unable to get the rope to her. They attempted to pull her directly up, but the belay lines were embedded so deeply into the lip of the crevasse they could not move her.

The Jim Farrell party of two noticed the Beineke party was trying to get someone out of the crevasse. Farrell and his partner, Dale Crosson, went to the Beineke party’s aid, arriving about 1745. An anchor (a fluke and two ice axes) was set. A Z pulley system was rigged. Chan-Sew was pulled to where she was against the lip of the crevasse. Part of the lip was cut away and a line lowered to her. She clipped into her chest sling. Chan-Sew was then uprighted after hanging upside down for at least 45 minutes. It is likely that the hanging and being pulled during the next minute is how Chan-Sew received her sore ribs and tingling in her left arm and hand. At this point Chan-Sew’s hand could just be touched, but they could not pull her from the crevasse. B. Beineke, while on belay, descended the few feet into the crevasse to Chan-Sew. She then had water running on her from the melting ice. Beineke cut the rope that was embedded in the lip of the crevasse. He chopped away a portion of the lip itself. At this time Blight was assisting on the Z pulley system. Beineke then climbed to the edge of the crevasse. They all pulled, and Chan-Sew was mostly out of the crevasse, lying partly on Beineke with her feet still in the crevasse.

It was now about 1800. Blight then went to the edge of the crevasse, unroped, to aid Chan-Sew, who was completely exhausted, and Beineke who was very tired. Blight was bent over, possibly kneeling. Lisa Beineke, Hayter, and Farrell were looking at him. Blight was facing them and away from the crevasse. Blight seemed to move a little back toward the crevasse. They saw Blight fall into the crevasse. Blight’s head was the last portion of his body to be seen. They noted no change of expression. Blight gave no call for help, no scream. The group was shocked.

The leader did not even realize Blight had fallen into the crevasse. His wife told him what happened. Beineke counted personnel and verified the truth. Blight could not be seen from the lip of the crevasse. Blight did not respond to calls to him. Beineke sounded the depth of the crevasse with a climbing rope. It was decided that they did not have enough usable rope after cutting one to safely attempt Blight’s rescue.

At 1810 Hayter and L. Beineke roped up and were sent down the mountain for help. At this time there were five people left at the site. Chan-Sew was very cold. She was put in a sleeping bag with Payzer to raise her body temperature. The other three could do little but wait.

About 1830, the Kirschner party of four, consisting of Scott Kirschner, Karl Mack, Rich Feldman and Jim Golden, descended to the site. Feldman was chosen to rappel into the crevasse. More of the snow bridge was chopped away. About 1850, Feldman, being belayed, rappelled into the crevasse. He described the crevasse as eight meters wide below its corniced top, about forty meters deep, and two meters wide where it was plugged at the bottom. Feldman found Blight and called up saying he thought he was dead. By this time Ed Carney and five others were ascending to the site from the Emmons Flats (3000 meters).

About 1945, Carney’s party arrived at the site. Feldman and Blight were still both in the crevasse. Chan-Sew was in a sleeping bag. There were 14 people on the surface able to help with the ropes. At 2000 the park was notified by Schurman radio. Carney took command of the operation. The Z pulley system was abandoned, for there were enough people to straight pull now. Another rope was lowered to Feldman. Feldman clipped it to Blight’s chest harness. Blight was pulled to where he hit the corniced roof of the crevasse. Feldman was then pulled to the same location. Then, with a combination of the ropes being pulled and Feldman working Blight from under the lip, they were both brought to the surface. It was about 2100. This raising operation was lengthy.

At the site Kirschner, a third-year medical student, checked vital signs. He checked for pulse, heart beat and respiration and found none. He said there had been bleeding from Blight’s eyes, nose and mouth, and when he checked for a carotid pulse he thought the trachea was crushed. Kirschner said he knew Blight was dead.

A trench was dug to leave the body. Night was approaching and the safety of the other climbers and moving Chan-Sew was paramount. The party roped up and started for Camp Schurman about 2135.

At 2120, Ranger E. Wilson called Camp Schurman by radio. Wilson told the climbers how to open the loft to all the rescue supplies and equipment. (Source: Edward Wilson, Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)


All members of the party had been through The Mountaineers’ “Scramble” and “Basic Climbing” courses. All had been trained in self-arrest and crevasse evacuation. Maria Chan-Sew reported that she had been climbing for seven months to complete the courses, and that she considers herself a beginning climber. Blight was described by his wife as being a cautious climber and a methodical person who liked to do things right, and that he had put a lot of time and effort into studying climbing. He was classified as an intermediate climber by The Mountaineers, and was strong and healthy. B. Beineke’s mountaineering background began with the Mazamas in Oregon, and includes having been a member of Salem Mountain Rescue and two previous ascents of Mount Rainier.

Practice sessions in crevasse rescue, as with any simulation, do not include the total matrix of variables which happen in reality. When an accident of this type occurs, it is often in easier terrain than one might expect, and simple procedures quickly become complicated, especially when basic practices are not being used and there is a shortage of essential equipment. The circumstances in this particular accident are certainly not unique. The reader is referred, for example, to the report on the crevasse accident which happened in June on Mount McKinley. (Source: J. Williamson)

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