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Dramatic Rescue and Tragedy on Grand Teton

Enshrouded in cloud, the Grand Teton (13,770′), Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. On July 21, 17 climbers were caught high on the peak in a lightning storm. One died; the other 16 sustained injury and were rescued yesterday. [Photo] Erik Lambert

Grand Teton National Park was the site of a dramatic rescue on Wednesday as heavy thunderstorms besieged 17 climbers on the Grand Teton (13,770′). Over the course of the eight-hour rescue, helicopters and professional guides aided 16 climbers off the peak but were unable to locate a missing climber.

After searches began early yesterday morning, July 22, rescuers located 21-year-old Brandon Oldenkamp of Iowa, who perished after falling off the Owen-Spalding route. Park officials have not yet confirmed whether he was directly struck by lightning, though a lightning map showed a minimum of six to seven strikes in the area.

Each of the 16 remaining climbers sustained some level of injury, ranging from burns to numbness, though most are in stable to good condition, said Bobbie Visnovske, Public Affairs Specialist for the park.

When the bulk of the storm passed over the ground between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m, the 17 climbers were in three independent, non-guided groups, with two parties climbing the Owen-Spalding, and a third climbing the Exum Ridge. Oldenkamp was with seven others when he fell from the Belly Roll pitch of the Owen-Spalding.

In preparation to begin a search at dawn, three rangers spent the night at the Lower Saddle hut (11,650′) on the evening of July 21. Treacherous landing conditions and accumulation of fresh snow in the vicinity of Oldenkamp’s fall complicated the rescue mission. “It’s been a tough day, especially for the rescuers…Our thoughts go out to the families of the victims,” Visnovske said.

This accident comes on the heels of another tragedy; on Tuesday, July 20, University of Michigan junior Jillian Drow, 21, fell to her death hiking in the park. She was studying at the Camp Davis Rock Mountain Field Station, part of UM’s geology department, though her hike was unaffiliated with the class. A Park Service investigation of the accident is under way.

Sources: Bobbie Visnovske, Jackson Hole Daily, Associated Press, CNN, Heritage Newspaper