Six climbers who were descending from near the top of Mount Rainier have perished in the worst accident on the snow-capped volcano in decades.
Two experienced guides and four clients are presumed dead after what the National Park Service estimates was a 3,300 foot fall.
The climbers were on their way down the mountain after an unsuccessful summit attempt via the difficult Liberty Ridge route on the northwestern side of Rainier.
The Park Service launched an aerial and ground search Saturday after the group failed to return to the trailhead on schedule. From a helicopter, searchers spotted climbing gear at the base of a rock and ice fall and detected personal avalanche beacons. But the spotters saw no signs of life.
A statement from Mount Rainier National Park says no attempt to recover bodies will be made until later in the season because of ongoing danger at the scene at the head of Carbon Glacier.
“This accident represents a horrific loss," said Superintendent Randy King. “The climbing community is a small one and a close one and a loss of this magnitude touches many."
Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International is the guide company involved. That same guide service employed five of the 13 Sherpas killed in an avalanche at Mount Everest in April.