The search for six climbers missing on Mount Rainier took a grim turn Saturday when searchers from the air spotted their equipment at the base of a more than 3,000-foot drop, officials said.
“There is every indication there is not a viable chance of survival,” Fawn Bauer, a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, told NBC News. “It’s a sad day.”
The last time anyone talked to the six climbers, including two guides, was at around 6 p.m. Wednesday via satellite phone, as the group was ascending Liberty Ridge at about 12,800 feet up.
When no one heard from the group by midday Friday, an alarm was raised that the climbers were missing, said Gary Harrington of Alpine Ascents International, which employed the guides.
Three climbing rangers headed to the spot where the climbers were last heard from, and private Hughes and military Chinook helicopters began scouring the slopes of the mountain.
On Saturday, crews from the air spotted climbing and camping equipment linked to the missing group at the base of a deep chute and steep slope on Carbon Glacier, scattered in the snow at about 9,500 feet, Bauer said.
The debris field where the gear was found is prone to rock slides and avalanches, Bauer said.
“That area where we found the gear is incredibly hazardous,” Bauer said. “We are not able to get into that area; it would put our staffers on the ground at risk.”
When the climbers last talked to Alpine Ascents, they said a storm was approaching but the group was planning to ascend to the summit on Thursday and hike out on Friday, Bauer said.
The Liberty Ridge approach is considered one of the more challenging and technical routes to the summit.
Harrington, of Alpine Ascents, said earlier Saturday that the company requires climbers have prior mountaineering experience to make the trek. The company declined to comment when reached after the gear was found.
The names of the climbers were not released Saturday, but Bauer said their families are traveling to the area.
Mount Rainier, which reaches 14,411 feet at its summit, is about 70 miles southeast of downtown Seattle. Liberty Ridge is located on the northwest side of the mountain.