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Denali climber claims rangers put celebrity before avalanche victims

Christensen/AP file

A professional Alaska mountain climber who was caught in a Mount McKinley avalanche June 12 that injured three other climbers claims their rescue was delayed while the National Park Service escorted "Good Morning America" correspondent Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of former President George W. Bush, about the mountain in a rescue helicopter. Florian Hill told the Chilkat Valley News (subscription required) the three injured climbers struggled to the 14,000-foot camp and obviously needed rescue but were told to wait for days to see if their injuries improved. Denali National Park officials deny the accusations, saying the climbers claimed they were in no hurry to leave the mountain.

Hill, who continued his descent after parting with the other three at 14,000, said he met Bush ... on June 14 at a camp at 7,000 feet, while he was still dazed by his injuries and by painkillers. "I was just thinking of the three guys who became my buddies. ... We survived an avalanche together. They've got serious injuries, they're at 14,200 feet waiting to be rescued, and this helicopter is cruising around on the airstrip making some stupid bullshit-for-television show."

Whether Bush was being ferried in the park's rescue helicopter was unclear [last] week. [Park spokeswoman Kris] Fister said Tuesday the film crew had used the rescue helicopter, but park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin on Wednesday said Bush was using private aircraft.

The three injured climbers were finally flown off the mountain June 15 in what the park service described as a supply trip to the 14,000-foot camp.

Fister on Tuesday told the Chilkat Valley News that the park service's helicopter had been used to escort Bush for the TV segment. But Fister said the three injured climbers at 14,000 feet declined the option of being rescued. "Our staff checked, but they weren't in any hurry to come down," she said.

Read more at the Chilkat Valley News: Climber: Jenna Bush, not injured trio, given priority