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Three Japanese Climbers Presumed Dead on Mount McKinley

March 12, 1989

TALKEETNA, Alaska (AP) _ A Mount McKinley climbing party of three Japanese men is presumed dead 3,000 feet below the summit of North America’s tallest peak, the National Park Service said Saturday.

″I’m afraid I see no hope for the survival of the three men, knowing what we know right now,″ Ranger Bob Seibert said in calling off a search by specially-equipped Army helicopters and an international group of climbers.

Searchers in a twin-engine airplane Friday flew over part of the 20,320- foot peak and observed three objects, possibly bodies, at the 17,400-foot level, 200 feet above the Japanese party’s camp. A follow-up flight by two CH- 47C Army helicopters was organized Saturday in an unsuccessful attempt to make identification.

Climb leader Noboru Yamada, 39; Teruo Saegusa, 31; and Kozo Komatsu, 34, all of Tokyo, set off on their expedition Feb. 16 and last were seen by an Austrian team descending the mountain as the Japanese were climbing.

″We’ve had two days of good (mountaineering) weather and we’ve seen nobody,″ Seibert said. He said earlier that if the men were alive and well, they would be moving about.

Seibert said he no longer could justify the risks the search posed for the rescue team aboard aircraft hindered by turbulence and severe downdrafts.

″Sometimes we had no aircraft control,″ said Chief Warrant Officer Myron Babcock, a pilot with 16 years of experience flying Chinook helicopters.

In trying to reach the bowl where the reddish-orange objects were observed, the helicopters Saturday encountered downdrafts that forced them downward at than 2,000 feet per minute, even with the aircraft operating at maximum power.

What were presumed to be the bodies were sighted just below Denali Pass, an area notorious for its ferocious wind.

″It’s my guess they were blown right out of the pass,″ Ranger Roger Robinson said. If that happened, the Japanese would have fallen 800 vertical feet, Robinson said.

Searchers had waited most of the week for safe flying weather. On Friday, a week after the return date the climbers stated when they set out, winds abated enough for the airplane, but not for the helicopters.

Before Friday’s flight, Seibert had said he was optimistic the Japanese were alive. He described the men as well-equipped, experienced climbers and said it was possible they were waiting out the weather in snow caves.

Park Service officials said the climbers also were aware of the agency’s food cache at the mountain’s 17,200-foot level.

″I wish we could have done more and found more, but sometimes it doesn’t work out,″ Seibert said when he announced the search was over.

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