2 Airlifted Off Mt. McKinley

Two exhausted, frostbitten British mountain climbers who had been stranded on Mount McKinley got fast trips off the mountain this morning, dangling beneath a high-altitude rescue helicopter.

The climbers were whisked by another helicopter to an Anchorage hospital, where they were recovering.

Antony Hollinshead, 33, and Nigel Vardy, 29, were stranded near the top of the 20,320-foot peak—North America's highest—Thursday afternoon after they slipped and tumbled 300 feet while descending. They suffered through 50 mph winds and temperatures as low as minus-30-degrees Fahrenheit before they were rescued.

A third climber with them, Steve Ball, was not hurt in the fall and headed down the mountain alone hoping to reach a high base camp.

The trio had been trying to make a quick dash to the summit, said National Park Service spokeswoman Jane Tranel. It wasn't immediately clear if they had reached the summit before trouble overtook them.

Rescuers had limited radio contact with the climbers for most of the day, either because of transmission problems or dying batteries, Tranel said. They radioed for help early Thursday.

Rescuers also were frustrated by high winds and foul weather that kept the light but powerful high-altitude helicopter from reaching the site Thursday.

A break in the weather late Thursday allowed the helicopter to drop a radio, fluids and "screamer suits" to the men. The special suits provide some protection from wind and cold. Just before midnight, helicopter pilot Jim Hood headed back up the mountain.

Vardy was hauled to a base camp at 7,200 feet, then Hollinshead was retrieved, taking the 10-minute flight to the camp.

The rescue was similar to one last summer in which two other British climbers were flown beneath the Lama to a base camp. Two British military climbers were about 300 feet lower when they were rescued last June.

About 350 climbers now are on Mount McKinley. Ten people have reached the summit so far this spring, Tranel said.

By T.A. BADGER