Image: Rescued climber
AP
Italian climber Marina Acanazio arrives at a hospital in Mendoza, Argentina, on Friday after being saved by the largest-ever rescue effort on Mount Aconcagua.
updated 1/9/2009 4:04:01 PM ET 2009-01-09T21:04:01

Three Italian climbers were flown to safety and a third alpinist died Friday in Argentina following a blizzard on the highest mountain in the Americas.

Mirko Affasio, 39, and Marina Attanasio, 38, were hospitalized with hypothermia, dehydration and severe bruising and could remain in the Mendoza facility for weeks, said Guido Loza, director of Department of Natural Resources for Mendoza province.

Fellow climber Matteo Refrigerato, 35, also from Italy, was taken off the Aconcagua mountain later Friday. Severe hypothermia and loss of motion in his limbs had left him barely able to walk, but his condition stabilized and he was on his way to the hospital, said Flavio Costarelli, head of logistics for Aconcagua Park and part of the rescue operation.

The mountaineering party reached Aconcagua's 22,841-foot summit Wednesday afternoon but were then caught in a blinding snow storm. With visibility reduced to 30 feet and temperatures below minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit, the alpinists lost their bearings and strayed from their route.

Loza said an avalanche during the storm killed Italian Elena Senin, 38, on Wednesday. Argentine guide Federico Campanini, 31, was also injured in the slide and died the next day.

Also Friday, a Mendoza police spokesman said a climber from a separate group died on the peak from an apparent heart attack. The spokesman was not allowed to be quoted by name, and the alpinist's identity and nationality could not be confirmed immediately.

An 80-person rescue team located the survivors Thursday and helped them descend to Condor's Nest camp at nearly 17,800 feet. Refrigerato was carried down in a stretcher.

"We did everything we could to get them out of there as soon as possible," Loza said.

Rescuers plan to retrieve the three bodies as soon as weather conditions permit.

Costarelli said there is typically one major rescue effort every summer during the climbing season in the Southern Hemisphere, and 200 smaller evacuations by helicopter for climbers suffering from injuries or altitude sickness.

Two to three people die every year climbing Aconcagua, according to Juan Pablo Marziane, head of logistics with a climbing expedition company in Mendoza, the usual point of departure. Stefan Geromin, a 42-year-old German climber, died Saturday.

Nearly 4,600 people attempted to summit the Andean peak during the 2007-2008 climbing season.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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