American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Party Separated on Summit — Whiteout, Washington, Mount Rainier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

PARTY SEPARATED ON SUMMIT – WHITEOUT

Washington, Mount Rainier

On May 4th, two climbers left Paradise at 9:00 p.m. with the intention of doing a single-push summit climb and skiing back down the mountain via Fuhrers Thumb. In the afternoon, the park received a 911 call from one of the climbers reporting that he’d become separated from his partner and lost in a whiteout somewhere on the summit.

That evening, his partner skied down to Paradise. On Tuesday morning, the park brought in a Hughes 500 helicopter operated by Whirlwind Helicopters and organized a two-person observation team. A break in the weather permitted the observation flight around mid-day, during which the observers located the climber on the summit. The helicopter was found to be too heavy to take on another passenger at 14,000+ feet, so the pilot returned to the Kautz Heli-base to drop off one of the rangers. During the observation flight, the pilot exceeded the aircraft’s capabilities, causing it to overheat. The climber eventually tired of waiting for the helicopter to return and skied down to Paradise. There were no injuries or accidents due to the overheating of the aircraft. Said Gottlieb, who was also IC for the second incident: “It is our responsibility to respond to requests for assistance proactively; a delayed response costs lives here.” (Source: Patti Wold, Incident Information Officer)

(Editor's Note: While this is not counted as an accident, it illustrates a potential for a problem when cell phones are used and helicopters are brought into play. It is also interesting to note that the climber who apparently was not lost in the whiteout decided to ski to the base without his partner.)

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