Climber dies on Alaska's Mount McKinley, 1 rescued

By MARY PEMBERTON | May 13, 2011 | 4:13 PM EDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A member of a climbing team that fell below the summit of Alaska's Mount McKinley has been rescued, but another member was found dead on the 20,320-foot mountain, officials said.

Winds as high as 70 mph delayed rescue efforts for much of Thursday, but gusts calmed just before sundown, allowing a helicopter to reach the injured climber at 19,500 feet, National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said. The climber was able to scramble into a rescue basket, she said.

The chopper then set mountaineering ranger Kevin Wright down next to the other climber at 18,000 feet and the ranger buckled the unresponsive climber into a sling. Medics at base camp confirmed the climber was dead. McLaughlin said the cause of death was not yet known.

The injured climber was transported to an Anchorage hospital, but no condition report was immediately available. Neither climber was identified as officials worked to notify relatives, she said.

The climbing team — made up of a guide and three clients on a rope — fell while climbing on the summit ridge on North America's highest peak early Thursday, McLaughlin said.

After the fall, the guide secured the injured climber in a sleeping bag in a flat area at 19,500 feet while the other two clients descended. By Thursday morning, the guide and one of the two clients had reached a high camp at 17,200 feet. But the other client — the one later found dead at 18,000 feet — never made it.

On Friday, the guide and the remaining climber were suffering from frostbite and were holed up at their camp at 17,200 feet, McLaughlin said. Whether the two would be airlifted off the mountain or come down on their own hadn't been decided, she said.

Skies were clear and winds were light Friday, making an evacuation possible, she said.