Searchers on Tuesday recovered the bodies of three of the six climbers who died on Mount Rainier in Washington three months ago, park officials said Wednesday.
One of the dead is a St. Paul man, 26-year-old Mark Mahaney. It's not known yet if he was one of the three who were recovered; the local medical examiner will identify the bodies.
Mahaney and five other climbers were killed in a 3,300-foot fall from Liberty Ridge, the steep north slope of Mount Rainier, on May 31. Park officials speculate that a rock fall or avalanche swept the climbers down the mountain.
During the initial search, crews found gear and detected signals from avalanche beacons buried in the snow. But searchers had to call off their efforts a few days later because of harsh conditions. Park officials said at the time the remains might never be recovered.
The three bodies were spotted two weeks ago by park staffers during a helicopter flight in the area, after recent warm weather melted some of the ice and snow. They were found in a debris field on the Carbon Glacier below Liberty Ridge, the same location where the climbers went missing.
Recovery efforts were delayed until this week because of unstable conditions on the mountain , according to KOMO News in Seattle.
On Tuesday, rescuers flew by helicopter to the area and used a remote-controlled grabber device mounted on a 100-foot long line to recover the bodies, according to park officials. They said the crew did not see any signs of the other three climbers during the operation.
The six-person climbing party was made up of four clients and two climbing guides from Alpine Ascents International. They were all experienced climbers, including Mahaney, who had climbed Mount Rainier once before. He had also summited Mount McKinley, North America’s highest mountain peak.
Mount Rainier, southeast of Seattle, stands at 14,410 feet and attracts thousands of climbers trying to reach its summit every year. Last year, about 10,800 people attempted to climb it, but only 129 used the more challenging Liberty Ridge route, according to park statistics.
This is believed to be the worst alpine accident on the mountain since 1981, when 11 people were killed by a massive ice fall.