denali climb
Credit: Denali NPS

Details Emerge About 'High-Altitude' Rescue from Mount Denali and Name of Deceased Climber

During the four-day rescue, Denali rangers were able to save two of the three men who were stranded near the top of the 20,000-foot mountain.

The National Park Service released details about last week's "high altitude" rescue operation of three Malaysian climbers near the summit of Mount Denali. The operation lasted more than four days as search and rescue teams had to wait out high winds and thick clouds. As a result, they rescued two men, ages 48 and 47, and recovered the body of 36-year-old Zulkifli Bin Yusof.

The rescue operation

According to press materials, the climbers sent out an SOS message, using an InReach satellite communication device, from the summit of Denali on May 28 around 1 a.m. They reported that they were hypothermic and unable to descend the mountain. About two-and-a-half hours later, they updated park rangers, saying they planned to descend from the "Football field," a flat expanse about 700 feet below the summit. But then, communication ended and their locators did not change.

The Park Service said that thick clouds prevented its high-altitude helicopter from reaching the mountaintop, so around 10 a.m., officials requested help from the Alaska Air National Guard to locate the climbers. Around noon, a pararescue team spotted two men at around 20,000 feet and the third at about 18,600 feet. But the clouds were still too thick to reach the climbers safely.

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The locations of activity during the rescue operation. Credit: Denali NPS

As clouds began to clear around 5 p.m., the helicopter crew tried to reach the summit but only made it to 14,200 feet. Then, they ended up taking two climbers from an unrelated climb off the mountain due to severe frostbite. They made a third attempt around 9 p.m. and found that one of the Malaysian climbers had made it down to 17,200 feet. Although the 48-year-old was suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia, he made it to the helicopter with the help of a ground team.

Afterward, the Park Service had to pause their search for nearly two days due to clouds and strong winds. However, a ground team had been staged at a camp around 17,200 feet. And the helicopter crew dropped a duffle bag of gear to the two men at the top of the mountain. Then, they resumed their mission on May 31, when the skies were clear enough to fly. When they finally reached the two men, they learned that Yusof had been dead for nearly two days. They evacuated the survivor and returned later in the evening for Yusof's body.

The Denali Mountaineering Season

According to the Park Service, Memorial Day kicks off the busiest two weeks of the Denali mountaineering season. Some 506 climbers are scheduled to climb the mountain. However, as of May 29, only 17 out of 117 climbers have made it to the top. At least two people have died this year while climbing in Denali National Park and Preserve. A solo climber from Japan died earlier this month. And a prominent trans climber died after falling nearly 1,000 feet back in April.