Climber's body recovered in St. Helens crater

Posted: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SEATTLE - The body of a veteran climber who fell 1,500 feet into the crater atop Mount St. Helens was recovered Tuesday after he spent more than a day in the snow, authorities said.

Clouds and wind had hampered efforts to reach Joseph Bohlig, 52, who was posing for a picture Monday on the rim of the dormant crater when a snow overhang gave way and he fell into the volcano.

"We're sorry that he's gone, that he didn't make it," said Richard Bohlig, the climber's 84-year-old father. "He was doing something he enjoyed very much. That's all I can say."

Family members had gathered in Bohlig's hometown of Kelso, Wash., to await word on the search.

Earlier in the day, Bohlig said his son was an avid mountaineer who had climbed peaks in many countries, but Mount St. Helens was his home mountain.

"He used to go up even before the eruption as a child, play in the snow and that," he said.

A Navy helicopter found Bohlig on its second pass of the day at the mountain.

The weather cleared long enough to spot his body, which had been partially covered by snowfall, Skamania County Undersheriff David Cox said.

Cox said an autopsy would be conducted to determine if Bohlig died of injuries, hypothermia or a combination of factors.

Bohlig had taken off a layer of clothing to cool down after reaching the summit and likely wasn't protected against subfreezing overnight temperatures, Cox said.

Two attempts to reach Bohlig by helicopter were turned back Monday by winds and fading daylight after crews spotted him.

He had reached the summit with his friend Scott Salkovics after a four-hour hike. Bohlig took off his backpack and some clothing then decided to pose for pictures.

Salkovics told KGW that Bohlig handed a camera to another hiker and was backing up when the snow gave way and he fell. The hiker threw himself toward Bohlig but couldn't catch him.

"Boom, it busted off and I saw him clawing for the edge with a startled look on his face, and then he disappeared," Salkovics told the TV station.

Salkovics threw a backpack down to his friend, but Cox said Bohlig was not able to reach it.

Bohlig was alive and blowing a rescue whistle soon after the fall. He had climbed the volcano 68 times before the accident, Cox said.

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