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Midnight Mission Plucks Climber off Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve


A midnight mission enabled rangers to pluck a Belgium climber off a ledge on Cassin Ridge on Mount McKinley. NPS photo.

A brief weather window allowed rangers to pluck a Belgian climber off Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve three days after his companion died in a fall.

A break in the clouds late Thursday night allowed climbing rangers aboard the park's A-Star B3 helicopter to reach Sam Van Brempt, who was bivouacked on a ledge on Cassin Ridge, around midnight.

Mr. Van Brempt had been awaiting rescue since Monday, the day his partner, Joris Van Reeth, was killed in a climbing fall. A Japanese team passing through on the night of the fatal accident had assisted the Belgian climber in lowering the body of his friend to a less steep elevation on the route. Due to avalanche-prone terrain below, Mr. Van Brempt remained camped alone on this 11,500-foot ledge above the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. Although physically uninjured, satellite phone calls to the ranger staff in Talkeetna indicated his emotional state had understandably deteriorated following the accident, the park reported.

A low-pressure system moved into the Alaska Range the night of the accident just as the NPS was attempting a helicopter rescue, and the clouds and heavy snowfall lingered in the vicinity throughout the week. In addition to an attempt by the park’s A-Star B3 helicopter, the Rescue Coordination Center in Anchorage dispatched the combined 210th, 211th, and 212th Rescue Squadrons from Elmendorf Air Force Base to attempt an evacuation on both Wednesday and Thursday, but the persistent clouds kept the Pavehawk crews at bay, a park release said.

At approximately 9:30 p.m. Thursday, however, two NPS volunteers staged at the 9,500-foot level on the Kahiltna Glacier, a comparable elevation relative to Mr. Van Brempt’s location, made a radio call to rangers at Basecamp indicating that the skies had cleared above them. The park helicopter launched from Talkeetna around 10:00 p.m. with two rangers on board. At the 9,500-foot staging camp, the rangers hooked up a rescue basket to a short-haul line under the helicopter, and pilot Andy Hermansky flew to the climber’s location above the Northeast Fork.

As the ship hovered overhead, Mr. Van Brempt climbed in and secured his harness to the basket, the park reported. The helicopter then flew back to the staging camp, where the rangers and Mr. Van Brempt got on board for the flight home to Talkeetna.

The body of Joris Van Reeth remains near the base of the Cassin Ridge, and was expected to be recovered by the Park Service Friday, weather permitting.


NPS volunteers camping out on a glacier for 3 days just to watch for a window to launch the bird? Three helicopter squadrons dispatched by the Air Force.

Hats off to everyone involved!!

Our thoughts are with Joris' family and friends, Godspeed to Sam
Many from Belgium thanks to anyone involved in the rescue op.

Once again the US Taxpayer is being saddled with the cost to rescue forigin nationals on McKinley. How many more times is this going to happen and what costs are being incurred before the US requires forigin nationals to put up a climbing bond that covers rescue costs. You can't climb in Europe without a guide and a climbing bond for rescue. We're in a tight economic situation all over the country and yet we continue to give our tax money away for the benifit of the rest of the world. Save the cost of the helicopter and rescue crews for US citzens only and make the forigin visitors "put up" or go climb somewhere else. Sorry for the loss of the other climbers life but that's the chance that anyone takes when putting their lives in "Harm's Way".

@ Lamadriver: A climbing bond might be a real good idea to help defray costs, but if you want to complain about all the useless and wasteful things the US taxpayer pays for, like bridges to nowhere and wars started for bogus reasons, I should think that a Denali rescue wouldn't even make your list. Frankly, I'm glad at least some of my tax money is going to save people, no matter where they come from.

R.I.P. Mr. Van Reeth. And proud praise for the rescuers who are ready to do it every day. A bargain at twice the price!

@ Lamadriver: It is simply not true that you cannot climb in Europe without a guide or a climbing bond.

@ Lamadriver have some respect. If you or your loved ones ever met unexpected tragedy in a foreign country you would hope they would do all they could to help you. Our tax dollars are continually being wasted on so much more trivial things. Our economy is disintegrating because of the 'its all about me to hell with everyone else' mentality. We forget that goodwill is a two way street and we may be the ones in need of help one day. This man obviously knew how to live life, condolences to his loved ones and family.

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