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3 Searchers Injured By Rockfall On Capitol Peak During Search For Missing Climber

PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- Three personnel with Mountain Rescue Aspen were caught in a rock slide while searching for a missing climber on Capitol Peak late Wednesday morning. They were injured in the slide.

A spokesman for the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office said he was prevented from sharing the extent of the searchers' injuries by medical privacy constraints.

The slide occurred just before noon.

CSB4 has confirmed the searchers were looking for 32-year-old Kelly McDermott and in fact found him, though deceased after an apparent accident on the mountain. The searchers were in the process of recovering his body, according to Alex Burchetta of the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office.

McDermott's body was left on the mountain as the searchers were rescued. It will be recovered at a later date.


Kelly McDermett Capitol Peak closeup (CSAR Facebook).jpg
Kelly McDermett in an undated photo. (credit: Colorado Search And Rescue Association/Facebook)

McDermott, from Madison, Wisc., was last seen at the Capitol Peak parking lot at 8:00 pm on Saturday, July 31st. He had planned to summit Capitol Peak on Sunday. A friend reported him overdue at 8:15 that night. McDermott's vehicle was found in the parking lot.

Searches of the area were hampered by poor weather both Monday and Tuesday. Separate helicopters were used each day.

Wednesday, as weather conditions improved, both helicopters (one from the Colorado Army National Guard High-Altitude ARNG Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, the other an air ambulance from CareFlight of the Rockies) were utilized. A larger ground operation also commenced.

MRA personnel aboard the HAATS Blackhawk spotted McDermett's body at 9:45 a.m. According to the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, it was located roughly 500 feet below the south end of a ridge known as the "Knife Edge," near the summit of Capitol Peak.

knife edge 5 (Heather and Will Rochfort)
A climber on "Knife Edge" on Capitol Peak. (credit: Heather and Will Rochfort)

Four MRA members began their ascent above Pierre Lakes toward McDermott. As stated in a sheriff's office press release, the team was struck by rocks likely dislodged by other climbers above them:

"Prior to beginning their climb toward McDermott, two rescuers had noticed recreational climbers further uphill from their location on the ridge near the south end of the 'Knife Edge.' The rescuers asked the pilot from the HAATS Blackhawk helicopter to try to signal to the climbers to move away from the ridge, as the recreational climbers would be directly uphill from the rescuers. The HAATS Blackhawk pilots flew to the ridge and motioned for the recreational climbers to move off the ridge, but the climbers didn't appear to understand the request. 

"After beginning their climb toward McDermott, rescuers heard someone yell 'Rocks!' from far above McDermott. Moments later, a massive rockfall, described as 'an avalanche of rocks' by one of the rescuers, came crashing down the mountain toward the four Mountain Rescue Aspen members. One rescuer was able to avoid being struck by the rocks while the other three rescuers each were struck by the flowing rockslide and sustained injuries. One rescuer received minor injuries to an extremity, while another sustained moderate injuries to the lower part of their body. The fourth rescuer sustained major injuries after being struck by a rock which knocked the rescuer roughly twenty feet through the air in a "rag doll," or somersault motion. "

 The HAATS Blackhawk immediately returned to the area and retrieved the injured personnel. It carried them to the Aspen Pitkin County Airport to waiting ambulances. The two least injured were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and later released. The other team member, however, was eventually flown by medical helicopter to St. Anthony's in Lakewood for emergency surgery.

Sneffels Rescue pic1 (Ouray Mtn Rescue Team on FB)
(credit: Ouray Mountain Rescue Team)

"A plan to recover McDermott is being formulated, but the conditions on Capitol Peak may delay the recovery for days or weeks," the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office stated. "Recent monsoon weather patterns have created even more instability and dangerous conditions on the mountain."

Mountain Rescue Aspen is made up entirely of volunteers.

Five people died climbing Capitol Peak in 2017.



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