ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two British soldiers trapped on the upper reaches of North America's highest peak for four bitterly cold nights were plucked to safety in a dramatic helicopter rescue Monday, park rangers said.
Martin Spooner and Carl Bougard, both 35, members of a military training expedition, were reported in good condition with only minor injuries after being brought down from their perch at 19,000 feet, near Mt. McKinley's 20,320-foot summit.
Bad weather had prevented rescuers from reaching the pair, stranded since an accident Thursday, but a helicopter spotted them late Sunday during a break in the weather and dropped supplies before preparing for the rescue.
Using a high-altitude Llama helicopter, rescuers brought the men to safety at a mountain rangers' camp farther down the peak. From there, they were flown to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage. Bougard was being treated for frostbite to both feet, and Spooner was treated for minor injuries and released, hospital officials said.
"I think they obviously got very lucky," said park spokeswoman Jane Tranel. The pair survived more than three days with no food and little shelter as temperatures dropped to 30 below zero and winds howled at 50 mph. The wind chill reached 100 degrees below zero at times.
"I don't think they were up there having a picnic," Tranel said.
In one of the highest helicopter rescues on record, pilot Jim Hood reached the climbers about 3 a.m. and lowered special "screamer suits" using a 100-foot-long line. The climbers got into the suits, attached themselves to the line and were flown dangling from the helicopter to about 14,000 feet, where they were put down and brought into the aircraft.
The Britons ran into trouble when roped climbers fell about 300 feet, and one, reported as Spooner, was unable to continue. Bougard remained behind with Spooner while the other climbers went for help, said Tranel.
Climbers on Mt. McKinley must pay a fee of $150 per expedition, and rescues are normally paid for out of that fund.
Three climbers on Mt. McKinley have died this season.