Three Climbers Die on Mount Hood
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TIMBERLINE LODGE, Ore. (AP) _ Nine climbers fell into a crevasse Thursday near the summit of Mount Hood in an accident that killed three and critically injured two others. Rescue efforts took a dramatic turn when a helicopter trying to reach the survivors crashed nearby, tumbling down the snowy mountainside.
The four crew members escaped the battered helicopter, Air Force Reserve Maj. Kris Kraiger said. One crew member was critically injured, and two others had less serious injuries.
The injured climbers and helicopter crew members were taken to hospitals in Portland, about 50 miles away, said Angela Blanchard, spokeswoman for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department. By late evening, the rescuers were working to recover the three bodies.
The Pave Hawk helicopter was attempting to bring up a climber on a gurney attached to a cable when it started to lose altitude. A crew member released the cable just before the pilot pulled away from the ridge.
Its refueling probe jutted into the snow, and the helicopter careened sideways down the mountain. Its rotor blades sheared off, and it rolled about 1,000 feet before coming to a rest at the base of Crater Rock.
Three separate groups of climbers were ascending the 11,240-foot mountain and were about 800 feet from the summit when the accident occurred about 9 a.m. A climber who was beneath the crevasse used his cell phone to call for help.
The chain reaction began when two climbers at the front of the pack slipped, falling into climbers behind them. They all crashed into the next group of climbers, and everyone tumbled into the crevasse, said Cleve Joiner, who called for help.
``The only thing I can compare it to is hockey players who throw themselves on the ice to block a shot,″ Joiner said. ``Everybody was sliding on the ice, and then they disappeared.″
Joiner, the assistant fire marshall at the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue department, was among five people from the department who were climbing. His 14-year-old son was among the climbers who fell in the crevasse, but he wasn’t seriously injured.
``When I found out he was alive, it was an emotional moment,″ Cleve Joiner said. ``I just kind of fought back the tears and carried on.″
By late evening, all of the injured were being evaluated at hospitals, Blanchard said. One helicopter crew member was in critical condition with internal injuries, according to hospital officials. Two climbers were in serious condition _ one had a head injury, and another had broken bones.
The helicopter went down nearly five hours after the climbers fell. Rescue teams who were on their way up to the crevasse on foot and in snow vehicles made their way to the crash site.
The weather was sunny and winds were calm, easing the task of helicopter crews, but officials said any high-altitude operation is risky.
Pave Hawk helicopters can operate at altitudes up to 14,200 feet. The Pave Hawk is a modified version of the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter used for search-and-rescue missions.
The helicopter was assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 304th Rescue Squadron based at Portland International Airport, the Pentagon said.
Mount Hood is extremely popular among experienced and novice climbers. Some 40,000 people fill out permits to climb it every year, and the route taken by the climbers Thursday was well-traveled.
The accident took place in the middle of prime climbing season, which runs through July.
``There is still fairly good climbing, and it’s fairly safe,″ said Keith Mischke, Executive Director of the Mazamas, a Portland climbing group. ``This happened in the morning, so the snow should have been pretty solid.″
the crevasse is about 25 to 30 feet deep, Mischke said. Climbers normally go around it or cross one of the snow bridges that naturally form across the gap.
``They go across the bridges one at a time usually _ a snow bridge can be between 2 feet or 15 feet wide,″ he said. But he added: ``If somebody falls they could pull the others in.″
Mount Hood is Oregon’s highest mountain and is the fourth highest in the Cascade Mountains range. It is an inactive volcano and has 22 glaciers.
The accident came a day after three climbers who became trapped in a storm died on Mount Rainier, about 100 miles to the north of Mount Hood in Washington state.
Mount Hood is the site of one of the worst climbing disasters in the United States. In May 1986, nine teen-agers and two teachers from the Oregon Episcopal School in Portland froze to death while retreating from a storm during an annual climb by students and staff.
Eleven people died on Mount Rainier in 1981 when they were caught in a massive icefall.
In the past 100 years, experts say there have been 130 deaths on Mount Hood. In the last 10 years in the United States, there have been an average of 30 climbing fatalities per year, said Jed Williamson, who edits the Accidents in North American Mountaineering publication for the American Alpine Club.