Jun 16, 2012 6:00 PM by David Ariosto, CNN

Four climbers feared dead after Mount McKinley avalanche

Four Japanese climbers are feared dead following an avalanche on Alaska's Mount McKinley, according to the National Park Service.

Park rangers are currently engaged in a search-and-recovery effort after the avalanche barreled down the western side of North America's highest peak on Thursday, in a section located roughly 11,800 feet above sea level, according to park spokeswoman Maureen Mclaughlin.

"Given how long it's been and how long they may have been trapped under there, it's more of a recovery effort at this point," Mclaughlin said Saturday.

One climber survived the incident after he was swept into a mountain crevasse and was able to climb out, sustaining only minor injuries, the service reported.

Hitoshi Ogi, 69, was unable to locate his fellow climbers and descended solo to the Kahiltna Basecamp and reported the event late Thursday afternoon.

The five climbers were ascending the peak as a team and were using a rope, which snapped during the avalanche.

Named after William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, the mountain's summit reaches an elevation of 20,320 feet above sea level. The mountain is also known as "Denali," an indigenous name meaning "the high one."

In May, a climber died after falling more than 1,000 feet down McKinley's north face. The climber apparently tried to recover a backpack that had started to slide downhill before falling, the park service reported.

That fatality was considered McKinley's first serious incident of the 2012 mountaineering season.

Less than a week later, a 36-year-old Finnish mountaineer also died from injuries sustained in a fall during descent.

Of the more than 1,000 climbers this season, only 234 have reached the summit.

There are 395 mountaineers currently attempting to climb Mount McKinley, Mclaughlin added.


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