Remains of two Japanese climbers found in Alps after half a century

A mountain shoe found next to the remains of two Japanese climbers who disappeared in the Swiss Alps in 1970.
A mountain shoe found next to the remains of two Japanese climbers who disappeared in the Swiss Alps in 1970.AFP
The Rhone glacier in the Swiss Alps on Aug 6, 2015, with the Swiss flag in the foreground.
The Rhone glacier in the Swiss Alps on Aug 6, 2015, with the Swiss flag in the foreground.REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - The remains of two Japanese climbers who disappeared in the Swiss Alps in 1970 have been found after emerging from melting ice, police said Thursday.

Human skeletal remains were discovered at the foot of the Matterhorn glacier, at an altitude of 2,800m, last September, and DNA tests have recently shown them to belong to two climbers who vanished 45 years ago, the Valais regional police said in a statement.

The two climbers, identified by the Japanese consulate in Geneva as 22-year-old Michio Oikawa and 21-year-old Masayuki Kobayashi, were reported missing on Aug 18, 1970, it said.

The consulate had assisted in tracking down family members of the two climbers in Japan to help compare their DNA profiles.

The first victim had been officially identified on June 11 and the second on July 20, police said, adding that it has a database of all missing climbers in the mountainous Swiss canton of Valais stretching back to 1925.

As Alpine glaciers melt due to global warming, the remains of long-lost climbers have increasingly been emerging from the shrinking mountain ice.

Last year, the remains of British climber Jonathan Conville, missing since 1979, were found near the peak of the 4,478m Matterhorn, whose pyramidal shape makes it one of the world's most recognisable mountains.

Climbing experts say that such extended disappearances following alpine accidents have become increasingly rare, as search-and-rescue methods have significantly improved, including with helicopters capable of reaching more precarious locations.

But Ed Crothers of the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education warned that "disappearances like this are certainly not a thing of the past.

"It does still happen, especially in cases of avalanches," Crothers said.

He noted an accident on Mount Rainier in Washington State in June of last year in which five people disappeared, with their bodies still not found, as rock and ice fall have made the area inaccessible to would-be rescuers.