The body found Friday hanging over a crevasse on Mount Rainier was a 30-year-old Atlanta woman who disappeared during an unrelenting winter storm that killed three other climbers.
A helicopter crew ferrying supplies to Camp Muir on Thursday spotted Michelle Trojanowski’s body and sent search teams to scour the area. She was recovered Friday from beneath 5 feet of snow around the 8,200-foot level of the Paradise Glacier, southeast of Anvil Rock.
The location was less than a mile from where her climbing partner, 37-year-old Mark Vucich, was found last month.
Climbing rangers on Friday also found a man’s body near Trojanowski and a collection of gear strewn about in the snow. The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet identified the man, nor determined how Trojanowski died.
Circumstantial evidence indicates the man might be Sork “Eric” Yang, 52, of Springfield, Ore., Mount Rainier National Park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.
Yang and Seol Hee Jin, 52, of South Korea, disappeared in January during the same storm. There has been no sign of Jin, even after an extensive search Friday and Saturday for her body.
Despite the discovery of Trojanowski’s body, officials have not been able to piece together what happened to the two groups, Bacher said.
“We really don’t know, and may never know,” Bacher said of how events might have unfolded.
The four had ignored a climbing ranger intern who met them as they headed up the mountain, warning them about the approaching storm. They were last seen by a climber who was coming down the mountain. Yang and Jin were roped together and headed up the mountain, while Trojanowski and Vucich were roped together, following the Koreans’ path.
When the four were reported overdue Jan. 15-16, park officials hoped they were hunkered down, riding out the storm that buried the mountain with several feet of snow, blasted it with 100 mph winds and brought frigid weather. Initial search efforts failed to turn up any sign of the four.
“We know Mark was found without any gear,” Bacher said. “We know the two bodies found Thursday had gear strewn around them as if they were trying to set up a camp or sorting through their gear.
“The reality is that’s not very much to go on. Whatever they were trying to do, they were trying to do under the most severe conditions imaginable.”
Crews working Saturday extensively searched the area around where the two bodies were found, as well as the spot on the Muir Snowfield where Vucich was found, Bacher said.
“We hit that mountain hard,” he said. “It is possible more evidence could melt out. It also is just as possible that the final member of the party is buried or in a crevasse we may never get to.”
Bacher admitted there was luck involved in finding Trojanowski’s body. After few more warm days, the snow might have melted enough to allow her body to fall to the bottom of the crevasse, he said.
The crew that spotted Trojanowski also saw lots of gear 100 feet down at the bottom of the crevasse, he said. But by the time searchers reached the site Friday, much of it had been buried by ice falling off the sides of the crevasse. Conditions made it unsafe to conduct a search in the deep crevasse.
“If something like that happened to the fourth member of the party, we may never find that person,” Bacher said. “That said, we’re going to try to be optimistic that we can find the fourth member of the party and bring this to a close. But we have to set the expectations realistically.”