NBC News and news services
updated 2/16/2010 7:15:26 PM ET 2010-02-17T00:15:26

The body of a veteran climber who fell into Mount St. Helens' dormant crater was recovered on Tuesday.

Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox said a helicopter crew recovered the body of Joseph Bohlig from the south wall of the crater after two passes over the peak.

Bohlig fell 1,500 feet into the crater and spent more than a day in the snow.

Clouds and wind hampered efforts to find Bohlig, 52, who had been posing for a picture Monday on the rim of the crater when a snow overhang gave way and he fell.

A helicopter from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station failed to reach Bohlig on its initial pass Tuesday morning. It refueled in Portland before heading back to the mountain.

Two attempts to reach Bohlig by helicopter were turned back Monday by winds and fading daylight after crews spotted his body covered by snow, with his arms, legs and head sticking out.

“There was no movement of the head, no attempt to signal,” said Lt. Brooks Crawford, the pilot of a Coast Guard helicopter.

The National Weather Service said the overnight temperature Monday on the mountain likely dropped to the upper 20s.

Bohlig, of Kelso, Wash., reached the summit with his friend Scott Salkovics after a four-hour hike. Bohlig took off his backpack and a layer of clothing, then decided to pose for pictures.

Salkovics told KGW-TV that Bohlig handed a camera to another hiker and was backing up when the snow gave way and he fell. The hiker threw himself toward Bohlig but couldn’t catch him.

An avid climber
“Boom, it busted off and I saw him clawing for the edge with a startled look on his face, and then he disappeared,” Salkovics told the TV station.

Bohlig was alive and blowing a rescue whistle soon after the fall.

Salkovics, an experienced climber as well, threw a backpack with supplies down the crater but wasn’t sure if his friend reached it.

Richard Bohlig, the climber’s 84-year-old father, said his son is an avid mountaineer who has climbed peaks in many countries, but Mount St. Helens was his home mountain.

“He used to go up even before the eruption as a child, play in the snow and that,” Richard Bohlig said. “I don’t know why he liked it, but he does. ... I guess it’s a challenge for him. He likes to take people up to St. Helens.”

Bohlig had climbed the volcano 68 times before the accident, Cox said.

The volcano about 100 miles south of Seattle exploded in a massive eruption in 1980 but has been quiet in recent years.

The U.S. Forest Service said the climbing route provides views of the crater, lava dome and eruption area. Most climbers can complete the round trip in seven to 12 hours.

The trail reaches an elevation of 8,365 feet. Climbers are advised to stay well back from the rim due to its instability.

About 13,000 people climb the mountain each year, mostly in the summer months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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