By Gene Johnson Associated Press
SEATTLE. — Chances of finding four missing climbers and campers alive on Mount Rainier grew more remote Monday as an intensive search turned up no sign of them and another storm approached.
A break in a stretch of powerful blizzards gave 40 ground searchers and three aircraft crews their best shot yet. Some teams were expected to continue searching Tuesday, weather permitting.
“We will continue to search in a limited capacity, but we will start pulling out resources,” said National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold. “It could be like so many other searches ongoing in the park — we never close a case unless we find someone.”
Mark Vucich, 37, of San Diego, and Michelle Trojanowski, 30, of Atlanta, were due to return from a snow-camping trip on Jan. 15. Climbers Sork “Erik” Yang, of Springfield, Ore., and Seol Hee Jin, of Korea, were due back from a summit attempt on Jan. 16.
Vucich’s stepmother, Fay Vucich, of Auburn, said the news was disheartening.
“We’ll just have to continue to wait and see,” she said.
Blizzards packing heavy snows and winds of more than 60 mph hindered rescue efforts over the past week, but small elite teams of mountaineers had been able to canvass areas around Camp Muir, at the 10,000 foot level. The snow is 15 feet deep, with drifts topping 50 feet, the Park Service said.
Searchers on skis and snowshoes took advantage of clear skies Monday to check areas they had not previously reached, including Mazama Ridge, lower Paradise Glacier, and an area north and east of Lake Louise where disoriented parties often wind up. They also checked the White River campground, in case the climbers headed down that way after summiting.
Two helicopters and a State Patrol plane with heat-sensing technology searched the upper parts of the 14,411-foot volcano.
Park rangers said the climbers and campers were well-equipped, with tents, avalanche beacons, crampons and other essential gear. The climbers had GPS and an altimeter, but none of the four had skis or snowshoes.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for the area Tuesday and Wednesday, saying snow and winds of more than 70 mph were expected.