Sheriff: Body of climber who fell into Mount St. Helens crater recovered

By Manuel Valdes, AP
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Climber’s body recovered in St. Helens crater

SEATTLE — The body of a veteran climber who fell 1,500 feet into the crater atop Mount St. Helens has been recovered after he spent more than a day in the snow, authorities said Tuesday.

Clouds and wind had hampered efforts to reach Joseph Bohlig, 52, who was posing for a picture Monday on the rim of the dormant crater when a snow overhang gave way and he fell into the volcano.

“We’re sorry that he’s gone, that he didn’t make it,” said Richard Bohlig, the climber’s 84-year-old father. “He was doing something he enjoyed very much. That’s all I can say.”

Family members had gathered in Bohlig’s hometown of Kelso, Wash., to await word on the search.

Earlier in the day, Bohlig said his son was an avid mountaineer who has climbed peaks in many countries, but Mount St. Helens was his home mountain.

“He used to go up even before the eruption as a child, play in the snow and that,” he said.

A Navy helicopter found the body on its second pass of the day at the mountain.

Two attempts to reach Bohlig by helicopter were turned back Monday by winds and fading daylight after crews spotted his body covered by snow, with his arms, legs and head sticking out.

The National Weather Service said the overnight temperature Monday on the mountain likely dropped to the upper 20s.

Bohlig reached the summit with his friend Scott Salkovics after a four-hour hike. Bohlig took off his backpack and a layer of clothing then decided to pose for pictures.

Salkovics told KGW that Bohlig handed a camera to another hiker and was backing up when the snow gave way and he fell. The hiker threw himself toward Bohlig but couldn’t catch him.

“Boom, it busted off and I saw him clawing for the edge with a startled look on his face, and then he disappeared,” Salkovics told the TV station.

Bohlig was alive and blowing a rescue whistle soon after the fall.

Salkovics, an experienced climber as well, threw a backpack with supplies down the crater but wasn’t sure if his friend reached it.

Bohlig had climbed the volcano 68 times before the accident, Skamania County Undersheriff David Cox said.

The volcano about 100 miles south of Seattle exploded in a massive eruption in 1980 but has been quiet in recent years.

The U.S. Forest Service said the climbing route provides views of the crater, lava dome and eruption area. Most climbers can complete the round trip in seven to 12 hours.

The trail reaches an elevation of 8,365 feet. Climbers are advised to stay well back from the rim due to its instability.

McDowell, who has been with the local emergency agency for 39 years, said the only other time a person fell from the rim was in 2008 when a snow cornice gave way under a snowmobiler, who was rescued by a helicopter and suffered a knee injury.

About 13,000 people climb the mountain each year.

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