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Avalanche Sweeps Away Mountaineers

June 19, 2000

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Bad weather forced rescuers on Monday to halt helicopter flights in their search for five mountain climbers swept away by an avalanche on one of Venezuela’s highest peaks.

Rescuers found one survivor soon after Friday’s avalanche and were continuing their search of Humboldt Peak on foot. But heavy rain was slowing their efforts, said Armando Abreu, Civil Defense chief in the western state of Merida.

``The weather is very dangerous,″ Abreu said. ``This is an area of much rain and snow, and it’s made the search very difficult.″

He said it was the worst climbing accident in the history of Humboldt Peak, part of the Sierra Nevada de Merida in the northern Andes.

The six climbers were students at Merida’s University of the Andes, and all were experienced mountaineers, Abreu said.

The avalanche hit them as they were ascending single-file about 2,300 feet below the mountain’s 16,308-foot peak on Friday afternoon, Abreu said.

They were attached to a safety rope, and the survivor, Jhonny Quintero, was the last person in the line, Abreu said. Quintero told rescuers the avalanche swept away the other climbers and the rope dragged him down the mountainside until he could detach himself.

Quintero reached a shelter and radioed for help, Abreu said. He suffered cuts and bruises but was in stable condition at a Merida hospital.

``We’re still hoping to find the others _ they all had much experience in the mountains, so we are optimistic that they may still be alive,″ Abreu said. He said searchers knew some of the climbers personally because they were civil defense volunteers.

Humboldt Peak is part of the Sierra Nevada National Park and is about five miles from Venezuela’s tallest mountain, the 16,523-foot Bolivar Peak.

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