Police raid travel agency over fatal Hokkaido climbing tour

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Police raided the head office and a local branch of a Tokyo-based travel agency Saturday on suspicion of improper management of a guided tour leading to the deaths of eight climbers in bad weather on a mountain in central Hokkaido.

Hokkaido police seized documents regarding the tour from the Tokyo and Sapporo offices of Amuse-Travel Co.

A total of 10 climbers lost their lives late last week in the Taisetsu mountain range.

The police said they are investigating whether adequate safety precautions were made in arranging the Amuse-Travel tour, with a focus on the actions and judgment of three mountain guides.

The eight people who died on 2,141-meter Mount Tomuraushi were in a party of 18 climbers who were to cross the Taisetsu range on a 41.5-km trek from Tuesday to Thursday. Those who died were all in their late 50s and 60s.

The police and Amuse-Travel have said strong winds and rain caused the party to become disorganized during a scheduled 11-hour trek on Thursday, with many climbers struggling to keep moving and apparently suffering from hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature.

One of the guides made a distress call to the Hokkaido police from his mobile phone on Thursday afternoon, several hours after the trouble unfolded late in the morning.

The police said Saturday that autopsies had found that all eight froze to death. Of the other climbers on the tour, five made it off the mountain under their own power while the others needed to be rescued by helicopter.

Amuse-Travel said two of the guides were leading this tour for the first time. They did not coordinate their actions when some of the climbers began complaining of health problems, the company said.

The travel agency rated this tour as having the second-highest degree of difficulty on its five-level rating system. Participants were limited to people up to 70 years old with climbing experience. According to the company, there had been no accidents during the previous 17 such tours.