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6 missing US mountain climbers presumed dead in avalanche-prone area

SEATTLE, Washington -- Six climbers in the U.S. are presumed dead after helicopters detected pings from emergency beacons buried in the snow far down the slope from their last known location, a Mount Rainier National Park official said Saturday.

“There's not a viable chance of survival,” Park Ranger Fawn Bauer said.

The helicopter crew spotted camping and climbing gear in an avalanche-prone area more than 914 meters below the group's last known whereabouts, she said.

Air and ground searches were suspended late Saturday afternoon. Bauer said the bodies won't be recovered Sunday because they are in an extremely dangerous area, where snow, ice and rock fall constantly.

The missing group includes four clients of Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International and two guides. They were due to return from the mountain Friday.

Mount Rainier, southeast of Seattle, stands at 4,390 meters and attracts thousands of climbers every year.

The group was scheduled to reach the summit of Mount Rainier on Thursday, with a day to climb down. Snow flurries and hail hit the mountain Wednesday, Bauer said, but the weather has been clear since then.

Bauer said Saturday's weather was perfect for searching and ground crews checked “every possible area” where someone could have sought refuge in the storm.

Alpine Ascents' director of programs, Gordon Janow, said he wasn't ready to release information about the climbers.

In a statement from the park, the guides were described as skilled.

In a blog post on the Alpine Ascents website Thursday, the post said the team had turned around at 3,960 meters during their attempt to reach the summit because of weather conditions. The blog post said all team members were well.

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