Thursday, September 2, 2010

Remains Found of US Hiker Missing for 21 Years

frozen remains of William Holland

Two men hiking in the Canadian Rockies have found the frozen remains of William Holland, an American climber who vanished more than two decades ago. I've been speechless," said Holland's wife, Anne Holland Bateman, of Walla Walla, Wash. "It has been 21 years. I never thought we would know what happened." The hikers discovered Holland's remains on Aug. 15 in Jasper National Park in Alberta, officials said. The men were walking near the base of Dome Glacier when they noticed a yellow object that seemed out of place in the snow-covered landscape. Upon closer inspection they discovered, much to their shock, the object was a yellow jacket and it was still attached to Holland's perfectly preserved remains.

"He was fully intact," said Garth Lemke, a public safety specialist with Parks Canada. "He still had his pack on. His clothes were tattered but in reasonable condition." Lemke added: "We have had cases where pieces of climbing equipment that may or may not have been related to serious accidents have melted out of glaciers and they amount to be clues in other potential missing-person cases. But this is definitely the first time we have had a full intact person discovered in a place like that." Holland, a 39-year-old geologist from Gorham, Maine, climbed the summit of the Snow Dome Mountain in April 1989. While Holland was at the top of Snow Dome, the wind picked up and conditions worsened. While battling blowing snow and whiteout conditions, Holland glanced over the edge of a cliff face, in an effort to locate a route of descent.

"As he approached the edge, the drift broke free and he fell about 1,500 feet," Lemke said.  Holland's climbing partner, Chris Dube, watched helplessly as his friend vanished over the edge. Rather than climb back down alone, Dube waited for another group of climbers to reach the summit. When the climbers arrived on the scene a few hours later, the group made their way back down together, but not without a struggle.  Conditions had continued to deteriorate and as they made their way down one of the men fell into a crevice and dislocated his shoulder. After rescuing the man, the group arrived back at camp well after nightfall. It was only then that they could alert the authorities to Holland's accident.

A search and rescue mission was launched, but rescuers were unable to locate any sign of Holland. At dusk the next day, they were going to deploy more search teams, but when they returned to the site they found a snow and ice avalanche had covered the whole area. "The rescue leadership at that time said it was unreasonable to put searchers in, so they suspended the search," Lemke said. Holland's body remained on the glacier and, over the past two decades, moved with it more than a half-mile from the site of his fall. Lemke says he believes a contributing factor to the discovery of Holland's remains is the amount of snow and ice that has melted since he disappeared, something Lemke says has been occurring faster in the past few years. As a result, it is possible that similar finds could be made.

"I [have been] here the last 16 years and we have one other [missing person] in that general area," Lemke said. "Some files dating back to the 1970s point to one or two other [cases], but we have not really confirmed that far back." Now, 21 years later, Holland's body has been recovered and positively identified using dental records. "So many things about him were pretty incredible," Bateman said. "One of his passions was music -- he played the guitar -- and his other was mountain climbing." Bateman said her late husband was an avid climber who had ascended Mount McKinley in Alaska, the highest and deadliest mountain peak in North America, which has claimed the lives of nearly 100 mountaineers.

The couple's daughter, Laurel Holland, said that at the time of his death, her dad was planning to climb Ama Dablam in Nepal. According to, the mountain is considered one of the "most impressive" in the world.  Bateman says she and Laurel will take possession of Holland's remains within the next few weeks. They plan to have the body cremated and will most likely spread the ashes in Canada.  "His favorite place was Paradise Valley, near Lake Louise," Bateman said. "We had a service for him there the summer after he died." Bateman said she is trying to locate Dube, her late husband's climbing partner, so she can give him the news of the discovery. "We're trying to get ahold of him," she said. "Last we knew he lived in Massachusetts." Meanwhile, the discovery has allowed Bateman and her daughter to close a very painful chapter in their lives. "On the day of the accident, Bill had skied [to the base of the glacier]," Bateman said. "The odd thing is that his skis were never found. We always wondered if he was out there someplace. It was such a remote possibility, but Laurel was only 5 or 6 when he died and it was something she hung onto. Well, now we know for sure."


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