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Copter Plucks 2 Hikers From Mount Rainier

An Army Chinook helicopter has rescued two hikers who were stranded high on the flank of Washington's Mount Rainier after a freak blizzard.

Mount Rainier National Park spokesman Kevin Bacher says they were picked up about 6:15 a.m. PDT Wednesday at Camp Muir for a flight to Madigan Hospital at the Army base near Tacoma for treatment or transport to another hospital.

The man and woman had frostbite and hypothermia from being caught overnight Monday in a blizzard that killed the woman's husband.

The two survivors are expected to recover, reports CBS News affiliate KIRO-TV.

The three had been on a day hike to Camp Muir when they were caught in the storm that dumped 2 feet of snow.

Bacher says the three people in their 30s from Bellevue, east of Seattle, were experienced climbers and two had reached the top of Mount Rainier before.

Bacher and Park Ranger Sandi Kinzer declined to identify the three, saying park officials were having difficulty contacting the dead hiker's family.

The three spent Monday night and early Tuesday trapped on the Muir snowfield before one of the hikers reached Camp Muir, a staging area for climbers high on the volcano's flank. From there he directed rescuers to the other hikers, one of whom died at the camp.

Three doctors, clients of a climbing concessionaire in the park, were at Camp Muir with the two surviving hikers, who were suffering from frostbite and hypothermia but were in stable condition, Bacher said.

The decision was made to wait for improved weather that would allow for a helicopter rescue, rather than risk exposing the two injured hikers to the elements.

"Since they are safe and stable where they are, we'll wait until we get a weather window to get them off the mountain," Kinzer said yesterday.

After a winter of heavy snowfall that forced repeated closure of mountain passes, unseasonably cold conditions have continued long into spring in Washington's Cascade Range. Paradise, the jumping off point for the trail to Camp Muir, received 2 feet of fresh snow overnight, with 5-foot drifts at the camp, Bacher said.

Bacher said rangers received a call at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday that the hikers were trapped in a blizzard.

Weather prevented a rescue attempt at that time, but one of the hikers reached Camp Muir at 7:15 a.m. The other hikers were found near Anvil Rock, a large outcropping at the edge of the Muir snowfield about 500 feet lower than Camp Muir.

Guides for local climbing companies have been assisting park rangers with the rescue.

International Mountain Guides had eight climbing clients and four guides at Camp Muir, while Rainier Mountaineering Inc. had 15 clients and a handful of guides there Tuesday. Both companies said their employees and clients were doing well, but hunkered down awaiting better weather.

"I do know it was a tough night up there for the weather, just because of what they were forecasting - high winds and low visibility and snow," said Jeff Martin, RMI operations manager. "Definitely not your typical June weather."

The bodies of two other hikers were found in California's Sierra Nevada backcountry last week.

El Dorado County Sheriff's Lt. Les Lovell said an autopsy performed Tuesday revealed that 70-year-old Thomas Hylton died of a heart of attack on June 2, the day he and 78-year-old Jerome Smith set out for a four-day backpacking trip in Desolation Wilderness just west of Lake Tahoe.

Smith left for help after his friend collapsed but fell down a hillside on his way back to the highway. The sheriff's office said he died from his injuries and exposure to the chilly overnight temperature.

The men's families reported them missing Thursday when they failed to return home to Lincoln, a bedroom community north of Sacramento.