Four elderly hikers, two men and two women, were found dead Saturday morning near a trail on Mt. Asahi in Tochigi Prefecture, eastern Japan, following a distress call the previous day, police said.

A rescue team was dispatched by local police after they received a call from a man in his 60s at around 12:20 p.m. on Friday saying one of the party could not move due to hypothermia. The four were spotted at three different locations and were confirmed dead where they were found.

Photo shows Mt. Asahi in Tochigi Prefecture, eastern Japan, on Oct. 7, 2023. Four elderly hikers were found dead near a trail on the mountain the same day. (Kyodo)

The hikers likely lost their way somewhere along the route leading to and from the 1,896-meter peak in Nasu, located in the prefecture, the police said.

They have been identified as Seiji Noguchi, 69, Yoshiko Takeishi, 72, and Toshiko Takatsudo, 79, all from Tochigi, as well as Eiji Kimura, a 65-year-old doctor from Osaka, they said.

 

According to the police, shortly after the initial distress call, they received a second emergency call from another hiker reporting that several people had fallen and could not move while one person had been "pulled up" after a fall. Both callers have made a safe descend, they added.

The rescue team initially headed toward the mountain but was forced to suspend operations at sunset due to inclement weather conditions such as gusty winds, fearing a potential second accident.

The rescue team eventually resumed its search at 6 a.m. Saturday and found them between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.

There were signs that Takatsudo had fallen, the police added.

An official of a ropeway company located near the mountain said that winds at the time of the incident were "so strong that one could not have stood still. There were several climbers who descended earlier than planned."

With winds blowing at roughly 72 kilometers per hour on average, the company suspended its services around noon on Friday.

Between 8 a.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday, the highest temperature at the site was 6.5 C, with the lowest reaching 4.5 C, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Mt. Asahi is a popular mountain for novice hikers but guides have to regularly warn about strong winds on mountain trails, where there are no trees to offer shelter.

In May, two climbers were rescued by police after they were unable to make their descent due to strong winds.

The latest accident occurred as the number of stranded mountaineers in Japan rose to 3,506 in 2022, the highest figure since 1961, according to police data, due partly to climbing trails and mountain huts reopening following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those aged 60 or over comprised over half of the total figure at 1,779, the National Police Agency said.