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Search suspended for NH hiker, prospects 'grim'

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / April 3, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire forest officials said Tuesday that conditions on Mount Washington remained too treacherous to resume a search for a Massachusetts man who fell into a deep crevasse, and prospects for his survival are "grim."

Norman Priebatsch, 67, of Boston was hiking in the Tuckerman Ravine with his 23-year-old son Seth and others on Sunday, when he lost his footing, slid over some rocks, went down a steep snow-covered slope, and fell into the Tuckerman Ravine, authorities say.

Snow ranger Jeff Lane was lowered 50 feet into the crevasse, using rescue and lighting gear, during a five-hour search Sunday that went into the night. He said he could see another 80-feet down but could not see to the bottom and did not see or hear Priebatsch. Conditions were too treacherous for a search Monday.

"We're looking at it as a recovery effort now, as opposed to a rescue," Lane said Tuesday.

As he described the crevasse, "it's sort of like a funnel. It goes straight down and narrows to about a four-foot diameter with a stream running through it."

White Mountains National Forest spokeswoman Tiffany Benna said rescue protocol and "respect for the family" prevent her from saying Priebatsch is presumed dead.

"It's a very grim situation," Benna said.

Lane and his colleagues post conditions daily to the Mount Washington Avalanche Center website. His report Tuesday urged climbers to avoid "the Lip" on the Tuckerman Ravine Hiking Trial, where Priebatsch fell. He cited "the extent of the crevasses, the severity of the consequences and the inability to assess the hazards."

Priebatsch is an entrepreneur and founder of a number of medical diagnostic and device companies in the greater Boston area. A native of South Africa, he received his master's degree from Harvard Business School in 1972.

Seth Priebatsch also is an entrepreneur and founded of Scvngr -- a company that creates gaming and business applications for computers and smart phones. In a September 2010 New York Times profile on him, his father is quoted as saying he and his wife pushed Seth and his sister very hard.

Seth Priebatsch was quoted as saying his father would take high level math and physics books he was reading as a child and turn the book upside down to force him to read them that way to ratchet up the challenge.

Brad White, owner and director of the International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway and a veteran of hiking in the White Mountains, said Tuesday that a spate of 80-degree days several weeks ago hastened hazardous conditions in the ravine.

"There's a massive crevasse system where the snow separates from the rocks," White said. "Because of the recent cold weather, icicles are forming above and it's an incredible dangerous place to work right now."

He said the cold weather has prompted the snow to harden like concrete, making any fall potentially lethal.

Another Massachusetts hiker -- 46-year-old Patrick Powers of Mansfield -- died after falling 800 feet while hiking in Tuckerman Ravine in January.

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