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Elderly climbers die in Japan

JAPANESE police were investigating possible negligence by tour organizers after 10 elderly climbers were found dead yesterday in Japan's northern mountains, apparently from hypothermia.

Nine seniors died while climbing Mount Tomuraushi on Hokkaido, Japan's main northern island, said police spokesman Masafumi Yamasaki. Eight were part of an 18-member group tour organized by Amuse-Travel Co Ltd, while the other was climbing alone.

A 10th elderly person died on another mountain on Hokkaido, he said.

Another police official, Tsuyoshi Matsuya, said investigators believe almost all the victims died of hypothermia.

"Most of the climbers were senior citizens," Matsuya said. "We are looking into a possibility of professional negligence on the part of organizers."

Investigators believe the elderly climbers, caught in strong winds and worn out, quickly deteriorated as chilly mountain air and rain sent their body temperatures dangerously low.

Matsuya said the climbers had thin rain jackets and the temperature dropped to about 8 degrees Celsius, a few degrees lower than usual.

Tour agency president Seiichi Matsushita apologized to the victims' families, offering to "do everything our company can do," but he defended his company and tour guides, saying they took sufficient safety measures.

"Nature and environment often affect mountain climbing, and we have repeatedly reminded our guides not to force their way when there is a slightest safety concern," Matsushita said. "I assume that the guides judged that the weather wasn't so bad when they decided to go on."

Yoshiaki Takeda, a local official near Mount Tomuraushi, said it was highly unusual for deadly accidents to occur on the mountain, which has several shelters.


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