US park rangers on Monday found the body of one of three hikers who disappeared separately in the past 10 days at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, officials said.
The body of Matthew Bunker, 28, of Seattle, who passed away on Friday, was found Monday at Liberty Ridge base, where he had gone on a group excursion, the National Park Service said Monday night. He had skied behind a partner at around 10,400 above sea level when, on the way back, “unknown events” made Mr. Bunker fall into “steep and insidious terrain,” said Patti Wold, Park Service spokesman.
The search for Mr. Bunker and the other hikers has been hampered by adverse weather conditions. But on Monday, clear skies allowed another helicopter search.
“We extend our deepest condolences to Matthew’s loved ones and friends,” said Tracy Swartout, deputy superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park. “It makes us very sorry not to be able to bring him home to his family.” Bunker graduated from West Point in 2013 and served for five years in the army.
The Park Service said the search for the other two hikers – Vincent Dije, 25, who passed away on June 19, and Talal Sabbagh, 17, who passed away on June 22 – was continuing.
Missed hikers are not uncommon on Mount Rainier at this time of year, officials said, because many climbers are surprised by the changing conditions as they climb the mountain.
“It looks like summer, but at high altitude we have a lot of snow,” said Terry Wildy, a spokesman for the National Park Service in Mount Rainier. “For people who are hiking, it may not be obvious where the trails are or what’s under the snow.”
Mount Rainier, an active volcano that at its peak is over 14,000 feet above sea level, was among the national parks that were temporarily banned during the coronavirus pandemic. The excursion was prohibited from March 24th to June 5th. The visitor center and other buildings remain closed.
Mr. Dije, an Indonesian student who lives in Seattle, and Mr. Sabbagh, who is from Seattle, were both last seen in the park area known as Paradise. It is located in the southern part of the mountain and where most visitors go up the path.
Dije was walking the Van Trump Trail, at least 5,000 feet above sea level, towards Mildred Point in Longmire, officials said. His car was found in the park.
The National Park Service said it was working closely with the Indonesian consulate in San Francisco and with relatives of Mr. Dije.
Mr. Sabbagh’s car was found parked heavily in Paradise, officials said.
Kathryn Van Waes, executive director of the American Hiking Society, said in an interview Monday that hiking “is generally safe during this pandemic.”
“It’s a really good idea to go out, but we advise people to stay close enough to home,” he said.
Ms. Van Waes suggested that hikers try not to make difficult hikes right now.
“The medical system is already very stressed,” he said. “Stick to front country and fairly easy hikes where you are less likely to get lost.”