State briefs

Posted: Friday, April 12, 2002

2 presumed dead on Mt. St. Elias

ANCHORAGE - Two climbers on Mount St. Elias are missing and presumed dead after they attempted to descend the mountain on skis, according to the National Park Service.

Aaron Martin of Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Reed Sanders, of West Yellowstone, Mont., disappeared Tuesday on Tyndall Glacier. A third climber, John Griber, of Jackson Hole, Wyo., descending on foot, saw Martin slide about 4,000 feet, out of control, before going out of sight.

After Martin disappeared, Griber searched for Sanders higher on the mountain but could not find him. Mount St. Elias, at 18,008 feet, is America's second tallest peak. It stands near the Canada border at the northern end of Alaska's Panhandle within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest unit of the national park system.

Searchers on Thursday were waiting for weather to clear to fly over the area. Snowfall limited visibility and made flying impossible near the search area. Griber and a fourth climber, Greg Von Doersten, also of Jackson Hole, were rescued Wednesday. Both were flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage and have been released.

House OKs supplemental funds

JUNEAU - The House approved a supplemental spending bill to keep Medicaid funded for the rest of the year and pay debts from increased security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Alaska Marine Highway System received $2 million for increased fuel costs and expenses from a fire aboard the ferry Columbia in 2000.

In all, the plan would spend $157 million in federal and state funds for unanticipated expenses for this fiscal year.

Rank-and-file House members voted to delete $2 million to the state's tourism industry that was approved by the House Finance Committee. The Alaska Travel Industry Association had requested state help to counter dramatic drops in early bookings to vacation spots attributed to post-Sept. 11 travel fears.

The Senate had rejected the request and a late-March industry survey showed only an expected 13 percent drop in the state's travel industry.

Senate Bill 291 was approved 33-3 in the House and now goes to a joint committee to consider changes made in the bill.

Mystery barrels at missile site

FAIRBANKS - Workers clearing the ground for a new missile defense system at Fort Greely this week unearthed a cache of rusty, World War II-era barrels that could hold remnants of chemical weapons.

Some barrel lids from the 1940s military dump read "US CWS" - the abbreviation for the United States Chemical Warfare Service, the U.S. Army chemical and biological combat agency inactivated in 1946.

Army officials said they don't know what's in the more than 20 barrels. Some barrels yawn open, revealing frozen crystallized contents. Others are so riddled with holes that they're empty.

Three of the contract workers who discovered the barrels reported skin irritations Thursday, according to Chuck Canterbury, an Army spokesman at Fort Richardson.

On Thursday, hazardous materials crews in protective breathing apparatus combed the site.

"We're taking it as a worst-case scenario because we don't know what's in there," Canterbury said. "Maybe it's oatmeal in there. But then again it could be something serious."

For years, Fort Greely served as an experimental chemical and biological weapons testing site.

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