10 climbers perish in Hokkaido

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Ten climbers have died on two mountains in the Taisetsu mountain range in central Hokkaido since Thursday, many of them succumbing to hypothermia in bad weather, police said Friday.

At least six of the 10 were found to have died of hypothermia and two other climbers were also hospitalized for mild hypothermia that is not life-threatening, as weather conditions around the range were unstable Thursday with strong wind and rain, the police and local meteorological observatory said.

There are few mountain lodges in the area, and the victims are believed to have exhausted themselves in the poor weather, prompting the police to investigate the possibility that climbing tour operators and guides were professionally negligent, resulting in the deaths.

The body of Atsuko Onoue, 64, from Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, was recovered from the slopes of 2,052-meter Mount Biei, while eight others died while climbing 2,141-meter Mount Tomuraushi, according to the police.

Onoue was on a tour organized by an Ibaraki Prefecture-based firm called Office Compass with two other women aged 55 and 62 and three male mountain guides, and had planned to traverse the Taisetsu mountain range from Thursday to Sunday. The other five were safely rescued.

The eight dead on Mount Tomuraushi were on a tour arranged by Tokyo-based Amusement Travel that comprised 15 people from eight prefectures and four staff members who are mostly in their 50s and 60s, and were to go across the mountain range from Tuesday to Thursday.

Of the other 11 on the tour, five were found conscious and picked up by helicopters, five went down the mountain by themselves and one was found safe in the mountains, according to the police.

Separately, another male climber was found unconscious on Mount Tomuraushi early Friday, and later confirmed dead, the police said. He is believed to have climbed the mountain alone.