Body might be climber missing in China

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2009 - 9:53 PM

Remains found in avalanche debris haven't been ID'd; a Twin Cities filmmaker is among the missing.

Officials are working to identify a body discovered in avalanche debris on a Chinese mountain that is believed to be one of three men, including a Twin Cities filmmaker, who haven't been heard from in weeks.

"We're working to make sure it is as accurate as possible, then we will release what we know," said Susan Johnson, mother of Wade Johnson, 24, formerly of Arden Hills, regarding details of the discovery.

Johnson, along with Micah Dash, 32, and Jonny Copp, 35, all of Boulder, Colo., were last heard from May 20 at the base camp of Mount Edgar, a peak of Mount Gongga, according to an e-mail his parents sent to friends.

They were scheduled to fly Tuesday out of Chengdu, Sichuan's capital, but missed the flight.

The body was found in the debris at about 4,000 meters, or 13,123 feet on the Minya Konka massif in Western Sichuan Province, according to Robb Shurr, spokesman for the search effort. The body has not been identified but is believed to be one of the American climbers. The three were believed to have been alone on the mountain when the avalanche occurred, and the body was discovered by a ground team searching on the surface of the mountain. The body was left at the site because of dangerous conditions, but a photograph was taken and will be brought the lengthy trek to the bottom of the mountain for attempts at identification, Shurr said.

"They got reasonably close to it, but the slope was unsteady, from what I understand," Shurr said.

Searches were suspended at night but were to resume during the daylight hours, weather permitting. Two professional American climbers, Eric Decaria and Nick Martino, are expected to arrive in Chengdu on Sunday to assist with the search. Like Dash and Copp, the duo are professional mountain climbers, Shurr said.

"These two are top, top, top-level alpinists," he said.

Two other American climbers will head for China today to help with the search.

Wade Johnson's mother and father, Bruce Johnson, declined requests for interviews Saturday afternoon, but remained optimistic as they waited in their Arden Hills home for word of their son.

"Susan Johnson is the most amazing woman I think I've ever met," Shurr said.

Though Saturday's news of the discovery of the body dealt the family a blow, the Johnsons aren't giving up hope, he said.

Gongga, Tibetan for "highest snowcapped mountain," attracts both tourists and mountaineers. It is 24,790 feet (7,556 meters) above sea level, according to Xinhua, the Chinese government news agency.

Johnson, a graduate of Carleton College, was working for Boulder-based Sender Films, which makes climbing and outdoor adventure films.

According to adventurefilm. org, a blog with information about the search, Copp and Dash are highly experienced alpinists and professional climbers who have many years of experience tackling big, unclimbed mountains around the world.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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