Alaska News

Weather hampers two rescues ongoing in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, officials say

Rescue groups have been unable to reach two groups stranded this weekend by poor weather in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, officials said.

A group of mountaineers called for help early Saturday near Mount Bona, and a pilot and passenger signaled for help separately that afternoon, park officials said in an online statement Sunday.

Rain fell Saturday in low elevations, while areas above about 5,000 to 6,000 feet of elevation saw snow, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Vuotto. The poor weather continued into Sunday, he said.

Park rangers were notified around 7:30 a.m. Saturday that two mountaineers on an expedition guided by St. Elias Alpine Guides out of McCarthy were experiencing high-altitude sickness on Klutlan Glacier, the statement said. The glacier is located near Mount Bona in the St. Elias Range in the southern portion of the park.

A doctor from Alaska Regional Hospital had been contacted Friday when the mountaineers began experiencing symptoms, the statement said.

Alaska Air National Guard helicopters tried to reach the group multiple times but were unable to rescue them due to the weather, the statement said. On Sunday, a third member of the team had cold-related injuries, park officials said.

The three mountaineers were at the team’s drop-off location around 10,000 feet elevation on the glacier, the statement said. There are a total of 12 people in the group, including four guides and eight clients, said park spokeswoman Carrie Wittmer.

Around 1:35 p.m. Saturday, park officials said they were notified that two people were sending out messages from an InReach device asking for a rescue near Mount Hawkins in the Chugach Range. The private plane was headed to Yakutat originally, Wittmer said.

The park service dispatched the chief pilot and owner of the Ultima Thule Lodge to find the stranded plane, but the weather prevented him from locating it, the statement said. An Alaska Air National Guard was also unable to reach the pilot and passenger, park officials said.

Limited information was available Sunday about the condition of the pilot and passenger, Wittmer said.

“We don’t know any details about the mechanical condition or circumstances that surround how they came to rest at that location,” she said.

On Sunday afternoon there was a slight lull in the snow and rain, said meteorologist Vuotto. By the early hours of Monday, another strong surge of moisture was expected to hit the area again and linger until Tuesday, he said.

“Around-the-clock efforts to rescue victims of both incidents continue in coordination with the Alaska Air National Guard, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Search and Rescue Team, Ultima Thule Lodge, and St. Elias Alpine Guides,” park officials said in the statement.

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