22 years after avalanche, Southern California man's remains recovered from Peru mountain

Leanne Suter Image
Wednesday, July 10, 2024
SoCal man's remains found on Peru mountain 22 years after avalanche
The remains of a 58-year-old Chino man who was buried in an avalanche 22 years ago have been recovered from a mountain in Peru.

LIMA, Peru (KABC) -- Twenty two years after an avalanche buried Bill Stampfl on a mountain peak in Peru, the Chino man is coming home.

Stampfl's frozen body was found and recovered recently on the 22,000-foot tall Huascaran peak.

For years, his family had assumed there was little hope of retrieving his remains from the thick fields of snow and freezing ice sheets that cover one of the highest peaks in the Andes.

"It's a little overwhelming, still processing it," his daughter, Jennifer Stampfl, told Eyewitness News. "We accepted the fact he was going to be part of the mountain and never be found. The fact he is found is a little surreal. Unbelievable."

Stampfl, 58, was an experienced mountaineer who went with two friends, Matthew Richardson and Steve Erskine, to climb Mount Huascaran in 2002. An avalanche buried all three men.

They had traveled the world to climb challenging mountains and had reached the peaks of Kilimanjaro, Rainier, Shasta and Denali, according to a Los Angeles Times report at the time.

Erskine's body was found shortly after the avalanche, but Richardson's corpse is still missing.

Stampfl's body was found this June by an American, Ryan Cooper. He and his brother Wes were trying to climb the same mountain when they spotted a body frozen in time.

"We got out his wallet, and as soon as we found he was an American citizen and he lived in Chino, California - we knew right then we were the stewards of his story," Cooper told Eyewitness News.

As soon as they got cell reception, they began their search for Stampfl's family - finally making that faithful phone call.

"My name's Ryan. I'm in Peru and I found your dad," he recalled telling them.

Jennifer Stampfl says it was when she saw the photos of his drivers license and passport, "that I went, Wow this really is Dad. And we always knew if he was ever found he would be preserved."

On Tuesday, police in Peru said they had recovered Stampfl's body from the mountain.

A group of policemen and mountain guides put Stampfl's body on a stretcher, covered it in an orange tarp, and slowly took it down the icy mountain. The body was found at an altitude of 17,060 feet, about a nine-hour hike from one of the camps where climbers stop when they tackle Huascaran's steep summit.

A team of 13 mountaineers participated in the recovery operation - five officers from an elite police unit and eight mountain guides who work for Grupo Alpamayo, a local tour operator that takes climbers to Huascaran and other peaks in the Andes.

Eric Raul Albino, director of Grupo Alpamayo, said he was hired by Stampfl's family to retrieve the body.

Lenin Alvardo, one of the police officers who participated in the recovery operation, said Stampfl's clothes were still mostly intact. The hip pouch with his driving license also contained a pair of sunglasses, a camera, a voice recorder and two decomposing $20 bills. A gold wedding ring was still on the left hand.

Jennifer Stampfl said a plaque in memory of the three friends was placed at the summit of Mount Baldy in Southern California, where the trio trained for their expeditions. She said they may return to the site with her father's remains.

Janet Stampfl-Raymer, who was Stampfl's wife, said that when her husband wasn't working as a civil engineer, he loved to be a mountaineer.

"He was a kind man. He was humble. He loved God, and he loved the mountains," she said.

"We all just dearly loved my husband. He was one of a kind," she said. "We're very grateful we can bring his body home to rest."

Huascaran is Peru's highest peak. Hundreds of climbers visit the mountain each year with local guides, and it typically takes them about a week to reach the summit.

However, climate change has affected Huascaran and the surrounding peaks higher than 5,000 meters, known as the Cordillera Blanca. According to official figures, the Cordillera Blanca has lost 27% of its ice sheet over the past five decades.

Stampfl's passion for mountain climbing took him across the globe.

He spent months preparing and planning for his trip to Peru - just like Ryan and his brother who ended up following in Stampfl's footsteps.

"That's where we were meant to be," Ryan says. "We weren't meant to summit that day. We were meant to find Bill and we were meant to bring Bill home and give his family closure."

His family is extremely grateful he is finally off the mountain and headed home.

"That's always been on my mind for 22 years," Jennifer says. "You're buried in the ice and you hate to be cold. Just having him home and warm is my biggest thing. I am so proud of my dad for following his dreams and aspirations."

Material from The Associated Press contributed to this report.