More Accidents on Denali
Multiple Rescues and Injuries This Weekend

Monday, June 22, 1998

Denali summit ridge
[Click to zoom]
(photo: Kaj Bune)
Accidents continue to occur on Alaska's 20,320 foot Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Two Americans fell Thursday, while a nine member British team was plagued by two separate falls Friday. Both accidents occurred on the ice slope known as the Orient Express. As of 2 p.m. (PDT) today, all injured climbers had been evacuated to Anchorage.

The two American climbers, Jeff Munroe, 25, and Billy Finley, 24, both of Anchorage, were, according the the National Park Service, roped together and descending the route near 18,000 feet when they fell approximately 2,500 feet.

Ironically, Munroe and Finley were discovered by two members of the British team, which had fallen at 19,000 feet. Phil Whitfield, 23, who was involved in the fall but was able to descend on his own, and teammate Johny Johnson, 33, were descending to the 14,200 ranger camp to report the accident and injuries to their own team.

A team of 11 rescuers were able to reach the two Americans and lowered them from the 15,500 foot level to the 14,200 camp.

Low lying, thick clouds prevented the Park Service Lama helicopter from reaching the camp until 10:30 p.m. Friday night. Lama pilot Jim Hood and Ranger Eric Martin transported Munroe to a meeting point with the Air National Guard, who then flew Munroe to Anchorage Regional Hospital.

Late last night, Jay Hudson of Hudson's Air Service, who was searching for a break in the clouds was finally able to give the go ahead to the Army Chinook helicopter. Three of the injured climbers were flown to Talkeetna and then to Alaska Regional Hospital.

Whitfield sustained minor injuries in the team's 300 foot fall. His teammates on the "Summit to Sea" expedition fared worse. Steve Brown, 26, was initially reported to be suffering from a head injury, but has since been said to have multiple leg fractures, and Martin Spooner, 35, suffered a possible broken ankle and a leg injury.

Then, on Friday night at just after 11 p.m., team member Justin Featherstone, who had stayed with the fallen climbers, and Brown began further descending the route. At 17,500 feet, the two fell 1,500 feet. Brown apparently did not suffer any "significant" further injuries in the second fall, but Featherstone is reported to have head injuries and frostbite.

Ranger Roger Robinson, at the 14,200 camp saw the two men fall and two ground search rescue groups set out from the camp and were able to retrieve the men and bring them into the camp.

Spooner and Carl Bougard, 35, who stayed with his injured teammate are reportedly still at the 19,000 foot level with bivvy sacs and extra down jackets. A plane was able to make a food drop sometime Sunday after the two went without food for nearly three days.

British team member Nigel Coar, 25, was at 16,900 feet at Balcony Camp and was also later assisted to the 14,200 foot camp by rescuers. Members Ian Hayward, 18, and Gary Keep, 27, who was not with the team during the incidents, but had ascended to the Balcony with a radio and food, are also now in the 14,200 camp.

Rescued last night were Finley, Featherstone and Brown. Volunteer Ranger and Mountain Guide Scott Darsney ascended to the 19,000 foot level to check on Spooner and Bougard. Darsney stayed with the men until they were airlifted to safety today.

Munroe was in the Intensive Care Unit of Alaska Regional Hospital Monday afternoon.

The British "Summit to Sea" expedition are members of the 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, who had planned to climb the West Rib Route of Denali and then raft and kayak three interconnecting rivers from the base of the mountain to the sea at Cook Inlet, the Park Service reported.

Both May and June have been tragic months on Denali. An assistant Rainier Mountaineering Inc. guide fell to his death on June 6, after unhooking from the rope team to aid a climber who had lost their footing.

And in May, a volunteer rescuer fell May 24 while searching for a climber who was later found dead. —Sarah Love, Mountain Zone Staff

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