15-Year-Old Climber Dies After 300-foot Fall
by Rosemary Shinohara, ADN 8/6/96
Pia Denkewalter, 15-year-old daughter of a well-known mountaineerlng-shop owner died Sunday after falling about 300 feet off a mountain and into a crevasse at Byron Glacier near Portage, family friends and Alaska State Troopers said
Pia was climbing down the north ridge of Byron Peak with her father, Paul Denkewalter and a party of four others. Denkewalter owns Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking, a Spenard gear shop.
The climb down Byron Peak was one Paul Denkewalter had made many times, a straightforward, nontechnical descent, said Steve Locher, an employee of AMH.
Pia slipped while descending over a small snowfield, he said. After sliding down the mountain, she tell about 30 feet into the crevasse, he said. She was still alive when her father and a family friend, Joel Wieman reached her.
Wieman stayed with her while her father ran to get help. But It took about 1-1/2 hours for Denkewalter to reach a phone and call for assistance, Locher said. And it was nearly three hours before an Air National Guard helicopter from the 210th Rescue Coordination Squadron picked her up and flew her to Providence Alaska Medical Center, he said.
She appeared to be dead before the rescuers arrived, he said. The helicopter crew tried unsuccessfully to revive her, an Elmendorf Air Force Base official said. She was pronounced dead at Providence. Troopers said she had head and internal injures.
Pia attended West High School and would have been a sophomore this fall. She played the violin and was a member of the Alaska Sports Academy, a sports club known for its serious athletes in a range of sports, but particularly cross-country skiing.
"She did just about everything," said Kelly Babraj, co-director of the academy. She skiied, played soccer, hiked, and was getting into mountain-biking.
Babied remembers a roller- skiing session in which she coached Pia and some friends last fall. "I told them to do something. At first they didn't want to do it. Then Pia decided to do it, and they all decided to do it. She had a group of friends; they really stuck together."
Locker said Pia and her two younger sisters, Ingrid and Grethe, spent a lot of time growing up in the mountaineering shop. Their mother, Mary Denkewalter, is a teacher at East High School.
"She was an awesome young adult," Locher said. "We always loved her."
He said the family was not prepared to comment Monday.
A Mass for Pia is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday at Holy Family Cathedral. A reception will following the Mass at 4 p.m. at O'Malley's on the Green. Both are open to the public. The family will hold private funeral services.