Search Called Off for Climbers at Mount McKinley

(NECN/KTUU: Ted Land) - An effort to recover the bodies of four Japanese climbers who died in an avalanche on Mt. McKinley, in Alaska's Denali National Park, has been permanently called off. 

"We just decided it was not worth the risk," said Maureen McLaughlin, a park spokesperson. 

An avalanche swept a five person climbing team off a slope on Wednesday. 

Only one member of the group, 69 year old Hitoshi Ogi, survived. 

He is recovering from minor injuries, which include frostbite on his hand. 

The others, 64-year-old Yoshiaki Kato, 50-year-old Masako Suda, 56-year-old Michiko Suzuki, and 63-year-old Tamao Suzuki, are buried under very dense snow and ice, the National Park Service said. 

Searchers found a snapped rope, which belonged to the climbers, leading down into the snow and debris left behind by the avalanche. 

"We are reasonably certain that they are at the other end of that rope and under the ice but at this point we will not put any of the searchers or recoverers in any further danger to go down and recover the bodies," said McLaughlin. 

The Japanese group was travelling the popular West Buttress route, used by roughly 90-percent of those who climb Denali. 

The National Park Service says these are the first avalanche fatalities on the route. 

The spot where they were killed, Motorcycle Hill, is prone to avalanches, but "not usually this magnitude," said McLaughlin. 

Including the four Japanese climbers who perished, there are 44 unrecovered bodies on Mt. McKinley, the National Park Service said.
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