By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Park rangers have recovered the bodies of two more climbers believed to have been part of a group of four who perished in an avalanche on Mount Rainier in Washington state in January, National Park Service officials said on Saturday.
The two bodies, of a woman and a man, were discovered this week within a few feet of each other at an elevation of about 8,200 feet, near where the body of a third mountaineer was located in August, officials said.
Search efforts have resumed for the remains of a fourth missing climber.
A helicopter supply crew spotted the woman's corpse on Thursday, her feet frozen in ice and the rest of her body tangled in her sleeping bag, dangling over the edge of a large crevasse of a glacier, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.
Camping and climbing gear was seen strewn across the bottom of the crevasse.
Rangers retrieved her body the next day, and recovered the male body from under some snow nearby. Both sets of remains were sent to the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office for positive identification.
Park officials said the pair were probably among the four climbers who disappeared in a heavy snowfall that struck Mount Rainier National Park in January, during an unusually powerful winter storm that virtually paralyzed Seattle.
The two couples were in separate climbing parties, although they registered at the same time and departed the same day. The camping gear found this week "appears to be a mix of the two parties," Bacher said.
He said the two couples were believed to have created a camp to wait out the storm and likely died from asphyxiation or blunt-force trauma when hit by an avalanche of snow.
The body found a month ago was identified as that of Mark Vucich, 37, of San Diego, California. The others missing were his companion, Michelle Trojanowski, 30 of Atlanta, along with Sork Yang of Springfield, Oregon, and Seol Hee Jin of South Korea, both 52.
Their presumed deaths bring to five the number of people killed while climbing Mount Rainier this year, including ranger Nick Hall, 34, who fell to his death during a rescue operation in June.
Some 8,000 to 12,000 mountaineers attempt to scale Rainier each year, but only about half manage to reach its 14,411-foot (4,392-metre) summit, Bacher said.
(Reporting by Laura L. Myers; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney)