Two Climbers Fall to Their Deaths on Alaska's Mt. McKinley

Two Washington state climbers fell 1,900 feet to their deaths during a descent of Mount McKinley, North America's highest mountain, Denali National Park and Reserve officials said Friday.

Mizuki Takahashi, 36, of the Seattle suburb of Lake Forest Park, Wash., was pronounced dead by a rescue team after the Thursday night fall. Her climbing partner, 27-year-old Brian Massey of North Bend, Wash., was taken back to a ranger tent for treatment but never regained consciousness and died Friday.

A third team member had stayed behind at a lower elevation, park service spokeswoman Kris Fister said.

Fister said members of a mountaineering ranger patrol at the 17,200-foot level witnessed the fall that began just shy of the 19,000-foot mark.

The roped pair fell to an elevation level just below where the patrol was stationed.

The two were likely experienced climbers to be scaling the Upper West Rib, Fister said.

Massey was a two-year firefighter for the Kent, Wash., Fire Department, said Kent Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kyle Ohashi.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, both climbers remained on the mountain until flying conditions permit a recovery, Fister said.

It was the first climbing fatality on the 20,320-foot peak since May 2005 when two Ohio men died, Fister said.

Massey served in a 155-firefighter department that covers 58 square miles. Even after two years of service, Massey's work was felt department wide, Ohashi told The Associated Press.

Ohashi touted Massey's work as a teacher in the department's community emergency response team classes, which are designed to help civilians become more self-sufficient during the first 24 to 48 hours of a disaster.

He also recalled Massey as tech-savvy firefighter who helped the department convert data for street and building maps to mobile computers. This, Ohashi said, made responses safer and more efficient.

"He was still doing a lot of learning, but he took it upon himself to do a lot of other things," Ohashi said. "And those were all voluntary. He chose to help the department in so many other ways."

Firefighters are prepared to see death daily, even among their own ranks, but when a colleague dies off the job, the impact among friends is more pronounced, Ohashi said.

"The fact that we can't do anything for Brian right now is very frustrating to our members," Ohashi said. "Right now, everybody just wants to go up there and bring Brian home."