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Three Mountaineers Rescued From Mt. McKinley

Denali National Park and Preserve

National Park News

Three mountaineers were evacuated from the 17,200-foot high camp on Denali’s West Buttress climbing route by the park’s contract A-Star B3 helicopter on Thursday, July 26th. Two had sustained leg injuries in an avalanche and were unable to walk.

Danish mountaineers Michael Pilegaard,  26, Mads Knudsen, 30, and Nicolai Bo Silver, 26, had set out from the high camp on Sunday, July 22nd, for a summit attempt via a non-standard route up the Autobahn, the slope leading from high camp to Denali Pass.  They had scouted the route variation the previous day because they were concerned about the high avalanche danger on the standard route.  While approaching their intended route up the Autobahn, they triggered an avalanche at approximately 1 p.m. The avalanche swept them from the 17,600 foot elevation several hundred feet down the slope to a point approximately 200 meters from their campsite. Pillegaard, who was relatively uninjured, was able to drag his two companions back to their campsite, where they waited for two days, hoping the injuries would respond to rest and treatment. On Wednesday, July 25th, after determining Knudsen and Bo Silver would not be able to walk, the trio called for assistance on an aviation radio, hoping to make contact with an aircraft providing scenic overflights of the mountain. The pilot of a Talkeetna Air Taxi plane heard the call and notified the National Park Service at 11:30 a.m. 

The park’s A-Star B3 helicopter, which was on assignment in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, returned to Talkeetna and reconfigured for a reconnaissance flight to high camp. After the initial reconnaissance, mountaineering ranger Kevin Wright dropped a bag from the helicopter containing communication devices, food, fuel, and a stove to the group. After establishing two-way communication with the party, rangers confirmed that all three were in stable condition, and that two would not be able to climb out under their own power.

Pilot Andy Hermansky flew to high camp site at 9 a.m. on Thursday and retrieved the climbers in three trips. Knudsen and Bo Silver were evacuated via a rescue basket on the end of a 125-foot-long line and the uninjured Pillegaard was loaded into the helicopter for the trips to Base Camp.  The two injured climbers were met by LifeMed helicopters at Base Camp and flown to Mat Su Regional Hospital for treatment.

All registered climbers are now off the mountain. A total of 1,223 attempted the mountain this year and 498 made it to the summit for a summit success percentage of 40.7%. This is the second lowest summit rate in the last 25 years. 


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