Police investigate climbing accident

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Police in Rogaland, western Norway, were getting help from expert mountain climbers as they investigated the deaths of two highly-experienced mountaineers who were making a trek along the famously steep side of Kjerag east of Stavanger. Some now believe a large chunk of the mountainside came loose while they were climbing on the ice last week.

Police identified of the two victims on Sunday as Bjørn-Eivind Årtun, age 45 , and Stein-Ivar Gravdal, age 37. Årtun lived in Oslo but was originally from Sauda in Rogaland.  Gravdal lived in Stavanger but was originally from Bergen, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Didn’t return as expected
A search had been launched for the two men after they failed to return when expected from their ice-climbing trek at Kjerag last Wednesday. Both were ranked as among Norway’s most well-known and experienced climbers, with “world-class” expeditions behind them.

On Tuesday, Gravdal traveled to Lysebotn to go ice climbing with his colleague Årtun. Both had climbed many times in the area before and Dag Cappelen of the Oslo Climbing Club told newspaper Dagbladet that the two planned to try a new route on Kjerag’s steep side. They planned to return on Thursday.

Friends and family were alarmed when they didn’t and the search was launched. The men were spotted by rescue helicopters on Friday and officials from the search and rescue agency Hovedredningssentralen Sør-Norge confirmed their deaths a few hours later. Eight fellow climbers went into the area on Saturday to retrieve their bodies.

‘Huge loss’
“For us, this is a huge loss,” Kjetil Hjertvik of a Rogaland climbing club told NRK. “There aren’t many who climb the big mountain walls in Norway, and they were well-known all over the country. We’re getting together to talk about this now.”

Hjertvik said Årtun and Gravdal were also well-known in climbing circles outside Norway as well. “They were among the best, and have done a lot for the sport,” Hjertvik stold NRK.

Ture Bjørgen, leader of the Rogaland alpine rescue group where Gravdal was a member, also was mourning the loss of the two climbers. “Both of them were considered to be the best, among the elite,” Bjørgen said.

Climbers were working with police to pinpoint a cause of the fatal accident. The national climbing association Norges Klatreforbund wrote on Monday that a large chunk of stone may have loosened from the area where Årtun and Gravdal were climbing, sending them plunging down the mountainside. Both men fell around 50 to 60 meters.

Autopsies were ordered for both men, while police technicians were examining their climbing equipment.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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