By Bruce A. Smith
Sunny skies on Monday allowed rescuers to mount a massive search for four overdue hikers, combing the southern slopes of Mount Rainier.
Park spokesperson Patti Wold announced that three aircraft conducted a major air search of the upper mountain, including the Ingraham, Cowlitz and Paradise glaciers, along with the Muir Snowfield and the summit.
Wold said that air resources included an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter, a contract Bell 206 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters, and a Washington State Patrol fixed-wing aircraft with a forward-mounted infrared device. This latter aircraft is designed to record thermal emissions, such as from the body of a trapped climber.
In addition, seven ground teams searched the Sluiskin Falls area, the lower Paradise glacier, upper Stevens Canyon above Lake Louise, and the Mazama Ridge region.
Search teams included Denali National Park and Mount Rainier climbing rangers and staff, and guides from the internationally renowned Ashford mountaineering companies – Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated and International Mountain Guides. They were joined by members of many local search and rescue agencies, such as the Seattle Mountain Rescue, and other respective groups from Olympic, Tacoma, Snohomish, Yakima and Everett, Washington.
No sign of the hikers – two groups of two climbers – have been found despite valiantly searching for the past seven days.
Ms. Wold also announced that the park will begin to scale down their rescue operation into an extended and continuous – but limited – search, focusing on the remote areas of the park and putting rangers in a position to render assistance in the hopes that the overdue parties will be able to walk out.
Neither party is believed to have carried snow shoes or skis, and Ms. Wold has said that they will most likely require help in their effort to return to Paradise. Between 10-15 feet of snow has fallen in the Paradise area over the past week, and drifts are reported to be as deep as 50-feet.
Further, Ms Wold did not think that search operations would be conducted on Tuesday due to worsening weather conditions.
In addition, Wold told the Mountain News on Tuesday that the managment of the search is shifting as the operation “ramps down.” The initial search had been headed by an Incident Managament Team composed of NPS staff, but now the search will “transition back to park management.”
Ms Wold also said she didn’t know how large the new search operation would be, nor how many mountaineers would be part of it.
As for the chances of a successful rescue, Wold acknowledged that “the odds of a favorable outcome are declining daily.”
The subjects of the search are four people in two parties that have been overdue since the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. One party of two, Mark Vucich, 37, of San Diego, California and Michelle Trojanowski, 30, of Atlanta, Georgia, had presumably hiked to the Muir Snowfields at 10,000 feet and were due out on Sunday, January 15. A second party of two, Sork (Erik) Yang, 52, of Springfield, Oregon and Seol Hee Jin, also 52, of Korea, had presumably made a summit attempt via the Disappointment Cleaver route, and were due back on Monday, January 16.
© 2012 Mountain News-WA