American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Weather — Stranded, Washington, Mount Rainier

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

WEATHER - STRANDED

Washington, Mount Rainier

Two climbers, Mrs. Mariana Burceag and Mr. Daniel Vlad (ages unknown), suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, were airlifted from Camp Muir on Mount Rainier at 6:15 a.m. on June 18 by a Chinook helicopter. They were taken to Madigan Hospital and from there by ground transportation to HarborviewMedical Center in Seattle. Mr. Eduard Burceag (age unknown), the husband of Mrs. Burceag, died of injuries sustained in the incident. His body is being removed from mountain this afternoon.

The three individuals are experienced mountaineers who had visited Camp Muir in the past and have enjoyed hiking and climbing on Mount Rainier for many years. Two had previously reached the summit. On June 16, they became trapped on the Muir Snowfield by a sudden blizzard while descending from a day hike to Camp Muir. Early on June 17, a 911 emergency call came through to park rangers advising them of overdue climbers on the Muir Snowfield. Due to heavy, drifting snow, 70 mph winds, and near zero visibility, a rescue team was unable to initiate a search safely at that time. At 7:15 a.m., one member of the party found his way to Camp Muir and was able to direct a search team, made up of climbing guides and park rangers stationed at Camp Muir, to the party’s location near Anvil Rock. All three were under shelter by 8:30 a.m. Three doctors who were at Camp Muir as clients of one of the park’s guide services provided immediate medical care. Mr. Burceag was unconscious and unresponsive upon arrival. Rescuers were unable to revive him.

The shelter at Camp Muir is warm, dry, and well-stocked with food and water. A carry-out rescue could have been initiated following the rescue; however, rangers and doctors determined it would be in the best interest of the patients to spend the night and wait for a break in the weather to safely fly the next day. This morning dawned clear above Camp Muir, with heavy clouds below. The Chinook helicopter arrived at 6:00 a.m. and in approximately 15 minutes, lifted Mrs. Burceag and Mr. Vlad, along with one of the park’s climbing rangers, into the helicopter by hoist and cable. Those on scene report that the cloud ceiling had risen somewhat by the time the helicopter arrived and that the rescue occurred amid swirling clouds that threatened to engulf the mountain in fog.

Analysis

Every year, roughly 9,000 people climb Mount Rainier and only about half of them reach the summit. Thousands more take day hikes or overnight camping trips to Camp Muir (48 were registered there on that night). These individuals are attracted by the majesty of the mountain, the wilderness experience, and the breathtaking beauty of mornings like this one, high above the clouds on the side of the volcano. Like many things in life, there are inherent risks in the wilderness. Sudden storms like Monday’s blizzard can catch even the most experienced and prepared hikers off guard. Visitors should check in with park rangers for the latest information about conditions on the mountain and should always be prepared for an emergency. (Source: Edited from a report on the mountrainierclimbing.blogspot.com)

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