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DENVERITE IN EXPEDITION

Climbers from the party led by Gregg Blomberg, 25, of Denver, attempting the first winter ascent of Mt. McKinley, stamped an apparent medical distress ...

2 Mar

DENVERITE IN EXPEDITION


Mt. McKinley Climbers Stamp Distress Signal in Snow
Talkeetna, Alaska

Climbers from the party led by Gregg Blomberg, 25, of Denver, attempting the first winter ascent of Mt. McKinley, stamped an apparent medical distress signal in the snow Sunday when a plane flew over their base camp.

Two men came out of the igloo at the 10,200-foot supply camp when a plane piloted by Dr. Royce Morgan made a second pass overhead. They stomped a long straight line in the snow--code for medical aid needed--and then stood beside the signal.

Bush pilot Don Sheldon later returned to the mountain in his plane, with Vin Hoeman, a rescue party leader who had been one of three observers on Morgan's earlier flight.

The air was so turbulent that they were unable to reach the camp before dark.

Sheldon planned to try to fly to the camp early Monday to leave Hoeman; but more bad weather was in prospect.

On another flight earlier in the day, Sheldon spotted two climbers at the 17,300-foot level. They stood calmly beside their brightly colored tents and made no signal. Sheldon said he took this to mean that all was well, but he said that now he isn't certain what the actual situation was.

Sheldon said he thought, after his morning flight, that the remaining five climbers were above the 19,000-foot level under a heavy cloud cover, awaiting a break in the weather for a final assault on the 20,300-foot peak.

He reasoned that the climbers at the 17,200-foot level were probably relaying supplies to the rest of the party, but now fears they had some other purpose.

Sheldon said one of the climbers he saw on the morning flight was wearing bright orange parka and pants, the clothing unique in the party to Ray Genet, 25, experienced Anchorage climber.

Sheldon said that on his first flight Sunday, he flew over old camps at the 7,500, 8,250, 10,200, and 14,200-foot camps without spotting any sign of life. He said later that those at 10,200 feet might not have heard his small plane over the whistling high wind but were roused by Morgan's twin-engine craft.

The last voice radio contact with the party was a week ago. A faint radio click was heard last Monday, indicating the transmitter batteries were dying.

The regular landing area is at the 8,250-foot level, where there is also additional radio equipment. Emergency landings could be attempted at higher levels by small plane or helicopter.

A party of eight flew to the mountain late in January, hoping to complete the first winter conquest of the majestic mountain by March 1. Jacques Batkin, 36, of Anchorage was killed when he fell into a crevasse Jan. 31.