ANCHORAGE - A climbing accident on Mount Foraker in Denali National Park claimed the lives of three Anchorage-area brothers, the National Park Service said late Monday night.
The bodies of Kevin Strawn, 27, of Anchorage; Travis Strawn, 21, of Wasilla; and Colby Strawn, 15, of Eagle River were recovered Monday evening. The three were roped together when they apparently fell 2,000 feet to the 8,500-foot level of the mountain, park service officials said.
It's not known what caused the accident or when it occurred.
Mount Foraker is about eight miles southwest of Mount McKinley. At 17,400 feet it is the second-highest peak in the Alaska Range. It is less popular among climbers than McKinley and is considered difficult to climb.
The brothers were flown to the mountaineering base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier on June 11. On Thursday, the third day of their climb, they radioed the base camp, reporting that they had climbed to the 10,500-foot-level of the mountain.
A pilot with the air taxi company that dropped off the Strawns flew over their route Sunday and grew concerned when he did not see the brothers and noticed evidence of avalanche activity in the area.
Concern grew Monday at the McKinley base camp. The brothers had not radioed in, and no other pilots flying in the area reported spotting them.
The Park Service sent up its high-altitude rescue helicopter at 3:30 p.m. with two rangers. They spotted tracks on Mount Foraker at 10,500 feet. About 4:40, they saw the three bodies on a slope at 8,500 feet. The brothers were still roped together and plainly visible on top of the snow.
The helicopter returned to Talkeetna for recovery equipment, then went back to the mountain Monday evening to retrieve the bodies and fly them to the base camp.
Park Service officials said it's not known what caused the brothers to fall. The weather was clear last week, McLaughlin said.
"It looks like there's some (avalanche) debris in the area, but it could have just been that they fell and the debris fell after them," said National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin.
Rangers will try to investigate what happened but answers might be hard to come by "seeing how there weren't any witnesses," McLaughlin said.
A typical climb to the summit of Foraker takes about two weeks and gains 10,500 feet elevation in nine miles.
The deaths are the first in Denali National Park since May 2000. That year, a 38-year-old Utah man was killed when a wall of ice fell on him on the Ruth Glacier. The last fatalities on Foraker occurred in June 1992, when two climbers were swept off by an avalanche.
Five mountain climbers have now died this year in Alaska. In April, two died on Mount St. Elias in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve after they fell 4,000 feet while trying to ski down the mountain.