Climber found deceased
A three-day search for a missing father of four ended in tragedy earlier this week.
Parks Canada’s search and rescue team spotted the body of Ho-Seok (Michael) Hwang, 44, of Calgary, on 2,970-metre Castle Mountain during a helicopter search around 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday (Aug. 7).
Hwang’s body was spotted at about 2,400-metres on the upper cliffs of the mountain, but rescuers were not able to recover his body because of high winds Tuesday. They flew back at first light Wednesday morning and used a sling for recovery.
Officials say Hwang was an experienced hiker and scrambler, and had dabbled in some sport climbing, but was not an experienced multi-pitch rock climber. He was found close to the popular multi-pitch route Bass Buttress.
“It appears he was rappelling when the accident occurred; he fell about 200 feet into a steep gully… it appears he rappelled off the end of the rope,” said Brian Webster, Parks Canada’s visitor safety specialist.
“It was a very disappointing end to the search because we had put a lot of resources into finding this fellow and up until the very end we were looking for someone who was likely hurt, but alive.”
Hwang had gone climbing in the Castle Mountain area, located half way between Banff and Lake Louise, around 8 a.m. Saturday (Aug. 4). His concerned wife raised the alarm the following morning.
Parks Canada rescue specialists immediately mounted a ground and air search for Hwang, but other than finding his White Ford Taurus station wagon at the trailhead, there were no clues to his whereabouts for the first two days.
They also brought in the park rescue dog, handled by Warden Mike Henderson.
Earlier search efforts had concentrated on the Eisenhower Tower area, but on Tuesday afternoon, rescuers spotted Hwang’s body in a steep gully close to the popular multi-pitch route Bass Buttress.
“He was in a deep gully, so you could only see him from certain positions in the air. If you were too far to the left or right you wouldn’t be able to see him,” Webster said.
“As well, we weren’t really considering the area we found him in a probable area of where he would be. Based on our information, we thought he was going to the Eisenhower Tower area.”
Lake Louise RCMP Cpl. Jeff Campbell said Hwang’s family was immediately notified and his body, once recovered, was being taken to the Calgary medical examiner’s office.
Campbell said his condolences go out to Hwang’s wife and their four young children, saying Victim Services was brought in to help the family deal with their grief.
“I was hoping he was hunkered down in an area and he couldn’t get out and we’d be able to rescue him,” he said.
“Sometimes we can’t recover or find a body, but at least now the search is over and it can give his family some closure.”
This is the third fatality in local mountains in recent weeks. Calgarians Ranjit Sidhu, 31, and Jane Vuong, 25, were rappelling down a sport-climbing route at Heart Creek east of Canmore when they fell to their death July 29.
Rescuers say rappelling accidents can be avoided.
“If in fact Mr. Hwang did rappel off the end of his rope, this is something that can be easily avoided, simply by tying knots on the end of the rope,” Webster said. “Then it’s impossible to rappel off the end of the rope. It wouldn’t be possible to have that kind of accident.”
Webster said rescuers had a general idea of where Hwang was headed, but no exact details – and he said he encourages other outdoor enthusiasts to always leave detailed information with a trusted person.
“If people are going out into the mountains, it’s really important they let someone know where exactly where they’re going and what they’re doing,” he said.
“That way, if they get into trouble and are overdue, we can get information that will allow us to focus our search and make it a lot easier to find someone.”
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