Rescue workers hoping to save a climber who fell into Mount St. Helen's crater instead recovered his body Tuesday afternoon.

Share story

Rescue workers who had hoped to save a fallen climber from the crater of Mount St. Helen’s instead recovered his body Tuesday afternoon.

Joseph Bohlig, 52, of Kelso, fell into the crater at about 1 p.m. Monday. A veteran climber on his 69th trek up the mountain, Bohlig was posing for a picture about five feet from the crater’s edge when the snow beneath him collapsed.

His longtime climbing partner and best friend, Scott Salkovics, watched in horror as Bohlig slid about 1,500 feet along rock and ice and settled into the crater wall at a 70-degree angle.

“He was just getting his picture taken, and all of the sudden I saw a crack and him grasping for the edge and a look of surprise and fear on his face,” said Salkovics, 49, of Longview. “And then he disappeared.”

A helicopter from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station removed Bohlig’s body from the south crater wall at about 2:45 p.m., Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox said. It was the fourth attempt to reach Bohlig after bad weather halted two tries Monday and one Tuesday morning.

The death shocked Bohlig’s family, who had grown accustomed to his frequent climbs.

“He had quite a bit of experience,” said the climber’s father Richard Bohlig, 84. “He climbed over in Switzerland, he climbed in Japan, so I was getting used to it.”

The father said that when he heard on TV that a man had fallen into the crater, he “got a strange feeling” that it was his son.

In the minutes after the fall, witnesses reported hearing an emergency whistle from the crater. A rescue crew located Bohlig but could not get to him because of high winds.

Temperatures dropped to the upper 20s overnight, according to the National Weather Service.

Early Tuesday, a rescue crew reported seeing no movement from the climber, whose torso was covered in snow, with his arms, legs and head protruding.

When the weather finally cleared, a rescue crew was able to lower a medic into the crater, Cox said. The crew transported Bohlig’s body to the Clark County Medical Examiner’s office, where an exact cause of death will be determined.

A marathon runner as well as a mountain climber, Bohlig will be remembered as a “great guy without a mean bone in his body,” Salkovics said.

“He died doing what he loved,” Salkovics said.

On Monday, the pair reached the summit of Mount St. Helens after four hours of hiking, Salkovics said.

After taking off his backpack and jacket and handing a camera to another hiker, Bohlig was backing up toward the edge of the crater when the snow gave way, Salkovics said. The hiker with the camera threw himself toward the edge but was unable to catch Bohlig.

“The first thing I did was start screaming ‘no, no,’ ” Salkovics said. “It was the hugest sense of helplessness I’ve ever had.”

Salkovics said he tossed a backpack with supplies into the crater in hopes it would help his friend. It was determined later the backpack had landed out of Bohlig’s reach.

Climbing accidents are rare but not unprecedented on Mount St. Helens.

There hasn’t been a climbing death on the mountain since the 1970s, Skamania County Sheriff David Brown said.

But in April 2008, snowmobiler John Slemp, of Damascus, Ore., fell into the crater. He had on a helmet, and his fall was cushioned by snow. Slemp survived.

The volcano, about 100 miles south of Seattle, erupted in 1980, killing 57 people and destroying 200 homes, but has been comparatively quiet in recent years.

The U.S. Forest Service says the climb to the summit at 8,365 feet provides views of the crater, lava dome and eruption area. Most climbers can complete the round trip in seven to 12 hours.

Those who reach the summit are advised to stay back from the rim.

Richard Bohlig said he hopes his son’s death will serve as a reminder to other climbers. “I hope that they would learn to don’t be so sure of the edge of the rim,” he said. “It can break off almost any time, and that’s what happened.”

Cox said he wasn’t sure whether the death would have any impact on safety procedures on the mountain.

“I just think we’re dealing with a very unfortunate accident today,” he said.

Brian Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or