As rangers await a break in the weather to recover the body of climbing ranger Nick Hall, other National Park Service staffers have begun an investigation of the accident and others are tending the emotional needs of park employees.
Continued bad weather, including more snow, has prevented helicopters from reaching the location where Hall’s body came to rest after falling 2,500 feet while he worked Thursday to rescue four climbers who had fallen into a crevasse.
Park spokeswoman Jacqueline Ashwell said three rangers from Alaska’s Denali National Park are relieving rangers at Camp Schurman, at about the 9,500-foot-level, where they have been waiting for a chance to retrieve Hall’s body. Two rangers from parks in Colorado also are helping with normal park operations. All have previous experience at Mount Rainier, Ashwell said.
Ashwell said about 3 feet of snow has fallen since Thursday’s accident, raising the avalanche danger on the north side of the mountain to high. A Chinook helicopter with crew from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and an MD500 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters from Olympia are standing by, but she said it may be midweek before anyone is able to reach Hall’s body.
The forecast for Wednesday and Thursday shows promise, with better visibility and a lower chance of rain.
In the meantime, the park staff tries to cope with a devastating set of tragedies. Hall’s death came less than six months after the Jan. 1 slaying of law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson.
“This is an unprecedented experience, to have two losses in one park like this,” said Chris Lehnertz, regional director of the National Park Service’s Pacific West Region. “Individually they’re difficult to understand. Taken together they are unfathomable. One is a life-changing event; I don’t know what you call two.”
Lehnertz was at the park Friday and Saturday, dropping plans to attend events at the Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho to support staffers at Mount Rainier.
“I saw this incredible focus among the folks at the incident command center. They were focused on completing that mission, because we still had the fourth climber being assisted by rangers and others working on recovering Nick’s body,” she said.
While rangers are waiting to bring Hall’s body off the mountain, a Park Service serious accident investigation team arrived Sunday and has started reviewing the incident.
“They will work to determine what the root cause of the accident was so we can learn everything possible to prevent this type of tragedy from happening in the future,” Lehnertz said.
In addition, a critical incident stress management team is providing support to park employees. Adding to the emotional stress is that many park employees are still coping with Anderson’s death.
“We don’t have a model for this. We’ve never had this happen before,” Lehnertz said. “We’re working to help park employees cope and survive, but they’re a group that thrives, and we want to help them continue to do that.”
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