Climbers' remains found decades after disappearance in Swiss Alps

Police in Switzerland say they've confirmed that human remains and climbing gear found at the foot of the Matterhorn glacier belonged to two Japanese climbers who went missing more than 45 years ago.

Story highlights

  • Authorities identify remains of Michio Oikawa and Masayuki Kobayashi, who went missing in 1970
  • Swiss police say a climber spotted skeletal remains at the foot of the Matterhorn glacier
  • Receding glaciers have made discoveries of remains increasingly common, police say

(CNN)For decades, there was no sign of two Japanese climbers who went missing as they tried to scale the famed Matterhorn mountain.

Heavy snowfall stopped searchers from spotting any trace of them after they disappeared in the Swiss Alps in 1970.
    But last year, a climber discovered a clue that led investigators to an announcement Swiss authorities made Thursday: The remains of the two climbers have been found, police said, 45 years after they went missing.
    The investigation started in September, after someone spotted skeletal remains and climbing equipment at the foot of the Mattherhorn glacier, Valais Canton police spokesman Stephane Vouardoux said. The remains were found at about 2,800 meters (9,200 feet).
    Working with the Japanese Consulate in Geneva, DNA tests were used to compare the remains with samples from the victims' family members in Japan, Vouardoux said.
    The remains, officials confirmed, were Michio Oikawa and Masayuki Kobayashi, two climbers who were 22 and 21 years old when they went missing in August 1970, Japan's Foreign Ministry said.
    The Matterhorn is among the most recognizable peaks in Europe.
    Police in the mountainous region say they maintain a list of climbers who've disappeared since 1925.
    In recent years, it's become increasingly common to discover remains as Alpine glaciers melt.
    "More and more regularly," police said, "the receding of glaciers permits the discovery of missing climbers after dozens of years."