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Three Climbers Dead, Rangers Struggle to Reach Three Others

May 18, 1992

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Rangers struggled early today to reach three climbers stranded for seven days on Mount McKinley without food, fuel or water. Three other climbers have died on the mountain since Friday.

″We’ve got cloud cover and high winds at altitude and downdrafts are so bad that our helicopter is losing 1,500 feet per minute,″ J.D. Swed, chief mountaineering ranger for the park service, said this morning.

The stranded South Korean climbers were in a snow cave 18,200 feet up the 20,320-foot peak.

Rangers tried to drop food, a radio and water to the climbers from a helicopter Sunday morning but were pushed back by 60 mph to 70 mph winds, said John Quinley of the National Park Service.

The group’s leader is believed to have frostbitten fingers and altitude sickness, and the group has no fuel to melt snow for water, officials said.

McKinley has received huge amounts of snowfall during an unusually strong spring storm in the past week.

″We’re waiting for a weather window,″ Swed said. ″Weather conditions will have to be perfect for us to try a dangerous and difficult rescue of those folks.″

A rescue party Sunday reached a Korean climber from a different group who was injured in a 60-foot fall into a crevasse, Quinley said. He was being taken to a ranger station. Two other Korean climbers with him escaped serious injury and were safe, Quinley said.

In a separate incident, Swiss climber Alex Von Bergen, 42, from Guttannen, died Sunday at the 14,000-foot level after suffering acute respiratory distress, Quinley said. He was among eight climbers ascending the mountain’s popular West Buttress route.

″He’s still up on the mountain,″ Swed said. ″He was a very experienced mountaineer. He’d been up at the 16,000-foot level for three days without any problems.

″His wife says he awoke with a slight headache yesterday, which is normal for that elevation,″ Swed said. ″His wife was fixing him some tea when he took two gasping breaths and stopped breathing.″

Two Italian climbers - Giovanni Calcagno, 49, and Roberto Piombo, 30 - apparently died Friday in a fall or avalanche, Quinley said. Climbers spotted the bodies at 15,000 feet along with a jumble of climbing ropes.

Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak, is 130 miles northeast of Anchorage. About 400 climbers were on it over the weekend.

The three deaths are the first fatalities on the mountain since 1990.

Update hourly