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Park ranger falls 3,700 feet to death during Mount Rainier rescue

Rain and snow at Mount Rainier in Washington state on Friday were preventing a helicopter from recovering the body of a national park ranger who fell 3,700 feet to his death during the rescue of four climbers. The National Park Service identified the ranger as Nick Hall. 

Hall was on Rainier's northeast side at about 13,700 feet when he fell around 5 p.m. local time Thursday as he was helping the climbers aboard a helicopter, the service said.

"As the first of the climbers were being evacuated by helicopter, Mount Rainier climbing ranger Nick Hall fell, sliding more than 3,000 feet down the side of the mountain," the service said in a statement.

"He did not respond to attempts to contact him and was not moving. High winds and a rapidly lowering cloud ceiling made rescue efforts extremely difficult," the service added. "Climbers reached Ranger Hall several hours after the incident began and found him to be deceased." 

Three of the climbers were able to be airlifted by 9 p.m. but the fourth had to spend the night on the mountain "in a safe location, with Mount Rainier National Park climbing rangers," the service stated Thursday night.

On Friday morning, the climber and two rangers started to walk down and made it to a camp at 9,500 feet by early afternoon.

Visibility was poor Friday, with rain showers at lower elevation and snow above 10,000 feet. As a result, the helicopter was grounded and rangers hoping to get to where Hall perished were also making little progress.

The climbers, two men and two women from Waco, Texas, had been walking on the Emmons Glacier Route on their way down from the summit when two of them slipped and fell into a crevasse, said Kevin Bacher, a park spokesman.

One of the climbers had a working cell phone and was able to notify park rangers. Rescue crews on foot located the climbers and lifted the two out of the crevasse, then began the process of transferring the climbers to a helicopter.

"The two women on the end went into the crevasse," Bacher said, "but the two men were able to stop the group, and that prevented anyone from falling to the bottom of the crevasse."

All four had bruises, and possibly some broken bones, but none of the injuries seemed life-threatening, Bacher said.

The climber still on the mountain is Stacy Wren, 22. The three hospitalized are Noelle Smith, Stuart Smith and Ross Vandyke, the park said.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that Smith is a Waco attorney who has climbed the highest mountains on all seven continents and has been to both poles.

Hall, a four-year veteran of Mount Rainier's climbing program and a native of Patten, Maine, was a former Marine sergeant and had also worked as an avalanche forecaster at Yellowstone National Park, according to his Facebook page.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar praised Hall as a ranger "who heroically gave his life to save others". 

Hall's age was initially reported as 34 but later corrected to 33.

Hall's is the second death of a Mount Rainier ranger this year. Margaret Anderson was shot dead on New Year's Day at a roadblock when she stopped a man suspected in a Seattle shooting.

Moreover, four Rainier visitors, two climbers and two campers, are presumed dead after failing to return from the mountain in January.

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