Deadly Climbing Accident on Mount Rainier

Loss of Balance Caused Deadly Crevasse Fall
Thursday, July 31, 1997 -- 10am PST

Rangers from the White River station reported this morning that they interviewed surviving climber, Joel Koury, and two other climbers who had witnessed the accident. Koury and his partner Don McIntyre were down-climbing from the summit Tuesday morning in fog and clouds. Around 1:30pm, they were walking along the edge of a crevasse at 13,500 feet on the Emmons Glacier when McIntyre tried to knock snow off his crampons, slipped, and both climbers quickly slid into the crevasse. They fell 50 to 80 vertical feet before landing on an ice ledge. Rangers added that it's very difficult to self-arrest a two-person rope.

McIntryre, 51, died before rescuers could reach the pair. Koury was extracted from the crevasse around 8:30pm, assisted to Camp Schurman for the night, and air-lifted off the mountain the next day. He sustained no serious injuries. (See story below.)

Injured Climber Air-Lifted Off Mount Rainier
Wednesday, July 30, 1997 -- 4:30pm PST

A break in the weather around noon today allowed a helicopter to land at Camp Schurman (9,500 feet) on the east side of Mount Rainier to air-lift injured climber Joel Koury off the mountain. With a hurt knee and back but no debilitating injuries, Koury turned down medical assistance at White River and left the park on his own, reported Donna Rahier from the Paradise Climbing Ranger Station.

The Emmons Glacier
(photo: Barry Gregg)
[Click for bigger image]
Koury of Santa Monica, CA and his partner Don McIntyre, of Reno, NV had climbed the Liberty Ridge route on Rainier yesterday morning and were descending on the less technical east side when both fell into a crevasse at 13,500 feet on the Emmons glacier. McIntyre died before rescuers could reach them, and Koury was assisted to Camp Schurman where he spent the night. (See story below.)

One Climber Dead, One Injured on Mount Rainier
Wednesday, July 30, 1997 -- 10am PST

One climber is dead, another injured and still on the mountain after an accident on Washington state's Mount Rainier.

After summiting Rainier (14,411 feet) on the morning of Tuesday, July 29, two climbers fell into a crevasse on the descent later that afternoon. The accident left Don McIntyre, of Reno, NV dead and his partner Joel Koury of Santa Monica, CA injured. The pair ascended the north side of the mountain by the steep but popular Liberty Ridge route, making a carry over to descend the less technical Emmons Glacier route on the east side of the mountain.

Another climbing party of two had followed McIntyre and Koury up Liberty Ridge and then down the Emmons. Around 1:30 in the afternoon, they "witnessed the accident and saw the climbers disappear into a crevasse," said John Krambrink, Chief Ranger at the Paradise Climbing Ranger Station. Krambrink says the rangers haven't had a chance to interview the climbers yet and don't know if the accident was the cause of a collapsed snow bridge, failed equipment, or a fall with a failed self-arrest.

The second party descended to the accident site where they saw McIntyre and Koury on a ledge about 50 to 80 vertical feet below the surface in a crevasse. Not equipped for crevasse rescue, they assessed the injuries -- McIntyre was unconscious and Koury thought he had a broken leg -- and went for help. Krambrink reports they reached the ranger stations at Camp Schurman (9,500 feet on the Emmons) at around 3:45pm Tuesday. From there, the rescue effort was launched.

A heavy cloud layer prevented the Chinook military helicopter from landing at the scene of the accident, so nine National Park Service climbing rangers were flown to the clear summit at 7:40pm. Equipped with extensive rescue gear, the rangers formed two teams and down-climbed to the 13,500 feet where the accident occurred. They lowered themselves into the crevasse around 8:30pm, extracting both climbers. McIntyre was already dead. While Koury was "pretty banged up," says Krambrink, his leg wasn't broken, and he was able to walk down to Camp Schurman with the assistance of rangers.

Krambrink reported this morning that deteriorating weather prevented a helicopter from reaching Camp Schurman where Koury spent the night, and that rangers were hoping Koury would be able to make the descent on his own. While talking to The Mountain Zone, Krambrink got a call at 9:30am from the rangers at Schurman who reported that Koury "was no longer ambulatory" and that an evacuation was now necessary. "People don't realize this, but you can really tighten up overnight after a fall like that. There can be a lot of pain," said Krambrink.

A helicopter is standing by, but if a window of opportunity doesn't open in the next couple of hours, the rangers will begin a ground evacuation. Watching more clouds move in, Krambrink expects it will take about a dozen rangers and most of the afternoon to bring Koury down in a rescue sled. "They'd be moving on snow and ice, going across crevasses, setting and resetting snow anchors, and lowering the litter foot by foot," he explained.

With limited resources, the rangers couldn't get McIntyre's body across the bergschrund at the head of the glacier, a kind of moat separating the ice of the summit area from that below. His body was anchored at 13,000 feet and two rangers are waiting for weather to permit other rangers to ascend and offer "a lot of additional assistance," says Krambrink. "He's anchored in a very dangerous position. It's a crevasse field, on steep, icy terrain -- a very technical lowering."

Because the military has a policy of not offering helicopter assistance to known fatalities, McIntyre will have to be lowered by rangers. "It's a good policy," says Krambrink. "What people sometimes don't understand is just how hazardous it is to fly helicopters around mountains. Their policy is that it's not worth risking human life in those conditions." It may be several days before rangers can lower McIntyre's body.

One of the "50 Classic Climbs" in the country, Liberty Ridge is considered among the more challenging routes on Rainier and is usually done in the early spring when snow conditions are generally safer and less technical. The large snow pack from last winter's heavy snows has allowed climbing on the route later than usual this season.

-- Anya Zolotusky, Mountain Zone Staff

Mount Rainier
(photo: Barry Gregg)
[Click for bigger image]

Mount Rainier
Just the Facts

Elevation: 14,411'

Age: Estimated between 750,000 and one million years old.

Glaciers: 26 individual glaciers cover over 35 square miles

Emmons Glacier: Largest surface area of any glacier in lower 48 states

Native names: Duk-hwahk, Pus-ke-house, Ta-co-bud, Tiswauk, and Takhoma

First assent: 1870, Philemon van Trump & Hazard Stephens

First assent by a woman: 1890, Fay Fuller

First fatality: Edgar McClure

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