4 South Korean climbers dead in Japan

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Rescued members of a missing group of 20 South Korean climbers, returns from the Central Alps mountain area, near Komagane, Nagano prefecture, central Japan, Tuesday, July 30, 2013. Japanese police said three South Korean climbers were found dead on the central Japan trail, and another is missing in bad weather. The four people are part of a group of 20 South Korean amateur climbers in their 40s to 70s. AP/Kyodo News

TOKYO — Police said Tuesday that four South Korean climbers have died apparently after developing hypothermia in bad weather in Japan’s Central Alps.

Rescuers earlier found the bodies of three of the climbers Tuesday on a popular mountain trail at an elevation of nearly 3,000 meters (9,900 feet) connecting two mountains, Mt. Hinokio and Mt. Hoken, Nagano prefectural police official Akira Ito said. The area is part of a mountain range known as the Central Alps.

A fourth man was later found dead about 100 meters (300 feet) below a trail where he apparently fell off, Ito said.

The four were part of a group of 20 South Korean amateur climbers aged between their 40s and 70s.

A coroner who examined the bodies of the first three men, believed to be in their 70s, cited hypothermia as the cause of their deaths, Ito said. An examination of the fourth body is pending.

The group began climbing Sunday without a Japanese guide and sought help after nine of them were separated from the group amid a rain storm and thick fog that hit the area Monday. All but the four were confirmed safe.

The area is not a place for picnicking and requires full preparation and physical strength, Ito said. Police interviews with some of the group’s survivors have not revealed any obvious problems in their preparations, he said.

In 2009, eight Japanese senior citizens died of hypothermia after being hit by a rain storm while climbing a mountain in Hokkaido in the north of the country. That case exposed the risks of mountain climbing as a growing trend among senior citizens in Japan as a way to stay healthy.

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