Bodies of 3 climbers retrieved from Mount Rainier

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Bodies of 3 climbers retrieved from Mount Rainier
FILE - In this June 1, 2014, file photo, visitors hike through the snow at the trails that start from Mount Rainier's Paradise Visitor Center. Officials on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, said that the bodies of three climbers have been retrieved from a glacier on the mountain in the same area where six went missing in May. A crew on a training flight this month spotted the bodies in an avalanche debris field after they were exposed by melting snow. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte, File)
FILE -- In this file photo taken June 19, 2013, Mount Rainier is seen from a helicopter flying south of the mountain and west of Yakima, Wash. Officials on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, said that the bodies of three climbers have been retrieved from a glacier on the mountain in the same area where six went missing in May. A crew on a training flight spotted the bodies in an avalanche debris field after they were exposed by melting snow. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
In this undated photo provided by the Kolb family through Cooper May Communications, shows Erik Britton Kolb, right, and his wife Lisa at Yosemite National Park. Erik Kolb is one of six climbers feared dead high on Mount Rainier in Washington state after they failed to return from a climb last week. (AP Photo/Courtesy Cooper May Communications)
In this undated photo provided by the Kolb family through Cooper May Communications, Erik Britton Kolb is shown. Kolb is one of six climbers feared dead high on Mount Rainier in Washington state after they failed to return from a climb last week. (AP Photo/Courtesy Cooper May Communications)
Visitors hike through the snow at the trails that start from Mount Rainier's Paradise Visitor Center, on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Six climbers are presumed dead after officials say they likely fell thousands of feet in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Mount Rainier is seen in the distance from a viewpoint within Mount Rainier National Park on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Park officials said that there are no immediate plans to recover the bodies of six climbers who likely fell thousands of feet to their deaths in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades.(AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Visitors hike through the snow at the trails that start from Mount Rainier's Paradise Visitor Center, on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Six climbers are presumed dead after officials say they likely fell thousands of feet in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Mount Rainier is seen from the road to Paradise Visitor Center at Mount Rainier National Park on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Six climbers are presumed dead after officials say they likely fell thousands of feet in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold talks to the media outside of the park's headquarters on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Officials said that there are no immediate plans to recover the bodies of six climbers who likely fell thousands of feet to their deaths in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
An RV is seen leaving Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Park officials said that there are no immediate plans to recover the bodies of six climbers who likely fell thousands of feet to their deaths in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold talks to the media outside of the park's headquarters on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Officials said that there are no immediate plans to recover the bodies of six climbers who likely fell thousands of feet to their deaths in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold talks to the media outside of the park's headquarters on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Officials said that there are no immediate plans to recover the bodies of six climbers who likely fell thousands of feet to their deaths in the worst alpine accident on the mountain in decades. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
An MV-22B Osprey aircraft flies in view of Mount Rainier during a flight for media members Monday, July 28, 2014, in Seattle. The vertical takeoff and landing tilt-rotor aircraft is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the performance of a turboprop aircraft. Two of the aircraft are in Seattle in support of Marine Week and will also be part of the annual air show over Lake Washington at Seattle's Seafair festival, Friday through Sunday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Mount Rainier is seen at sunset through the window of a plane caring Washington Gov. Jay Inslee home Friday, July 18, 2014, from a day-long tour of areas affected by wildfires in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this photo taken July 15, 2014 and provided by the National Parks Service, search and rescue workers stand next to a Chinook helicopter at Mount Rainier in Washington state as they are briefed prior to resuming the search for a 64-year-old man who went missing after he was last seen Saturday July 12, 2014, while hiking the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier. (AP Photo/Courtesy National Parks Service)
A pair of MV-22B Osprey aircraft fly in view of Mount Rainier during a flight for media members Monday, July 28, 2014, in Seattle. The vertical takeoff and landing tilt-rotor aircraft is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the performance of a turboprop aircraft. The pair of Osprey are in Seattle in support of Marine Week and will also be part of the annual air show over Lake Washington at Seattle's Seafair festival, Friday through Sunday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
In this photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013, Mount Rainier, at risk to nearby populations from eruption and volcanic mudflows, is seen from a helicopter ferrying state officials south of the mountain and west of Yakima, Wash. With the approach of a fire season that is expected to be above average in the state this year, and with a new batch of state officials and staff that came on board when Gov. Jay Inslee was sworn in earlier this year, the state Department of the Military organized a full-day briefing that involved a trip across the mountains to prepare them for their roles during an emergency, and let them know the role and capabilities of the state’s National Guard. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A pair of small airplanes flies into Boeing Field and in view of Mount Rainier at dusk Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A Boeing 787 sits parked at Boeing Field at far right and in view of Mount Rainier and smaller planes landing Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in Seattle. Federal officials say they are temporarily grounding Boeing's 787 Dreamliners until the risk of possible battery fires is addressed. The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it will issue an emergency safety order requiring U.S. airlines to temporarily cease operating the 787, Boeing's newest and most technologically advanced plane. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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By GENE JOHNSON

SEATTLE (AP) - The location of the three bodies was revealed by the melting snow, but getting to them was another matter. They were high on a glacier at one of the most treacherous spots on Mount Rainier, an area pummeled by falling ice and rocks.

So rangers borrowed a tool from their colleagues at Denali National Park in Alaska - a mechanical claw that's so highly specialized it hasn't been used in years.

A helicopter equipped with the device plucked the bodies of the three climbers off Mount Rainier on Tuesday, in the same area where a party of six vanished last May.

A crew on a training flight spotted the bodies in an avalanche debris field Aug. 7, but the area, at the 9,500-foot level on the Carbon Glacier, was considered risky for a typical recovery operation. Warm weather has led to more ice and rock falls as well as the opening of new crevasses, making it one of the most hazardous spots on the 14,410-foot volcano, said Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold.

Rangers teamed up with Olympia-based NorthWest Helicopters to use the mechanical grabber. It was mounted at the end of 100-foot-long line, saving crews from having to lower a mountaineering ranger down to the glacier.

"It's got three or four prongs that open and close," Wold said. "Those games in the grocery store where you use the claw to grab the toys - it operates similar to that."

The six, all experienced mountaineers, included two guides and four climbers. They went missing the last week of May on a technical, dangerous and little-used route up Liberty Ridge. Authorities believe they fell 3,300 feet.

The climbers had traveled from as far away as Singapore to ascend the glacial peak. Members of the group were Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International guides Matthew Hegeman and Eitan Green; Erik Britton Kolb, a 34-year-old finance manager at American Express, who had traveled from New York; Uday Marty, a vice president and managing director of Intel in Southeast Asia who was based in Singapore; Seattle mountain climber John Mullally; and Mark Mahaney, of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Last year, about 10,800 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier and only 129 used the Liberty Ridge route, according to park statistics.

While the Park Service believes the bodies recovered are those of members of the missing party, official confirmation will come from the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office, Wold said.

There was no sign of the other climbers during Tuesday's operation.

Denali National Park commissioned a Eugene, Oregon, company called Heli-Tech to make the mechanical claw in 1995, according to a report in The Register-Guard newspaper the following year. It's similar to devices the company had made for logging, farming and other purposes, but with high-altitude adaptations. It's made of lighter-weight aluminum instead of steel and uses electric controls instead of gas-powered ones.

The device was used for the first time in 1996 to recover a climber who fell at the 16,000-foot level on Denali. It wasn't immediately clear how many times it's been used since. Denali mountaineering ranger Brandon Latham said Wednesday it hadn't been used in the seven years he's been stationed there. Nor was he aware of it ever having been loaned out.

"They're a very specialized tool that helps us perform an operation with the helicopter where otherwise putting a rescuer on the other end of the line would be too risky," he said.

Denali's helicopter manager, Joe Reichert, has been in Washington state helping to fight wildfires and helped arrange for the device to be shipped to Rainier, Latham said.

"We knew from the get-go what was going on and what had happened and the trouble Rainier was having trying to reach the folks after they found them," Latham said. "There was a lot of discussion on pros and cons, on the best ways to handle it and recover the bodies for the families. This was an option that was thrown out on the table."

NorthWest helicopters performed some tests to make sure the claw was compatible with their MD-530 helicopter, Wold said. Eight park rangers were involved in the planning and execution of the operation.

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