American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Respiratory Distress, Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001


Alaska, Mount McKinley, West Buttress

On May 26, the Casade-Dacks Expedition of Ron Fridell (50), Sid Perkins, and Don Andrews (43) flew to the Kahiltna Glacier to begin their climb of the West Buttress of Mount McKinley. Over the next five days the group proceeded to the 11,000-foot camp. On June 1, the team made a carry to 13,500 feet, which is a popular strategy for the difficult move from 11,000 feet to 14,200 feet, and returned to the lower camp. On June 2, the group was climbing past Windy Corner en route to the 14,200-foot camp when Andrews began having trouble breathing. According to Fridell, Andrews slowed down noticeably, began resting more often and developed a productive cough. Andrews’ respiratory distress became so alarming that the group stopped and Fridell continued to the 14,200-foot camp alone and without his pack in order to summon help. Fridell arrived at the NPS Ranger Camp at 2130 and reported the incident.

By 2154, Volunteer Rangers Denny Gignoux and Jay Mathers were on scene assessing Andrews and administering oxygen. With in five minutes Joe Conroy and Marty Kimble, Air National Guard Pararescuemen (PJ’s), were also on scene working with Andrews, while Gignoux and Mathers prepared an anchor to begin lowering the patient for possible evacuation.

By 2215, the PJs had conferred with Dr. Peter Hackett about Andrews’ condition and it was decided that he should be evacuated, so the helicopter was requested from Talkeetna. The decision was based on the patient’s history of cauterized esophageal varacies that could rupture and cause serious internal bleeding if his respiratory distress continued or became more severe. Andrews was not responding as well as was expected to treatment with his personal inhaler and supplemental oxygen. He continued to be pale and cough up pink sputum.

At 2300, the NPS Lama rescue helicopter departed Talkeetna en route directly to Andrews. At this same time Chris Eng and Dan Howley (emergency hired climbers), departed camp with additional cylinders of oxygen. Upon their arrival at 2317, Eng and Howley replaced the existing oxygen and descended to 13,500 feet and prepared a landing zone for the helicopter. The Lama landed, the patient was put on board at 2339, and was on the ground at Basecamp at 2349.

Dr. Peter Hackett evaluated Andrews at Basecamp while waiting for the Air National Guard Pavehawk to arrive. At 0119 on June 3, Andrews was transported to Alaska Regional Hospital where he was seen and released.

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