Three Die Climbing Ukraine's Highest Mountain

KIEV, Ukraine -- Three people died July 16 climbing Ukraine's highest summit in a group event whose participants included President Viktor Yushchenko, a Ukrainian television station reported.

About 16,000 people accompanied Yushchenko on the annual ascent up Hoverla Mountain, about 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level in western Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains.

Hoverla Mountain

The annual climb was held July 16 to mark the 15th anniversary of this ex-Soviet republic's declaration of sovereignty. Two of the climbers died from health problems, and a third was killed when the weather turned bad and lightening struck near the peak, 1+1 television reported.

The station also reported that several people suffered minor injuries. Emergency officials could not be reached to comment late July 16. Yushchenko's office said the president safely descended the mountain, and it could not immediately confirm the report of deaths.

Yushchenko has previously climbed the mountain about 30 times since 1971. In 2001, he announced the formation of his party, Our Ukraine, from atop the mountain. This time, the president was accompanied by two of his daughters, and was stopped almost every 10 meters (33 feet) to sign autographs and pose for photographs with other climbers, news reports said.

Source: AP