Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


Searchers Find Body of One Missing Climber

Aired December 17, 2006 - 18:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fredricka Whitfield here in Atlanta. I'm joining by Carol Lin, who will be carrying the baton into our coverage here of the discoveries and the lack there of, that rescue teams are making these in Mt. Hood as they try to zone in on some of these clues. Lots of disappointments today, but they're feeling rather optimistic because they have some clues on which to follow: the ice axes, as well as ropes and even the sleeping pad that were discovered in what does appear to be, they're confirming it to be a snow cave, which was dug by someone, presumably anyone or all three of these climbers who have been missing now, Kelly James, Brian Hall, Jerry Cooke, for over 10 days now. And so these rescue teams are going to follow the clues.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Follow the clues and you've got to ask, why would you leave the shelter? Why would you leave that shelter? What would be his reasons? And in following those footsteps, where might they lead as the sun is beginning to set and some of those rescuers are going to have to come off the mountain. They're going to go back to an air search, try to use those heat-seeking devices that they have, the technology through the night, to see if they can detect any body heat at all.

Fred, it's going to still be an interesting night. We do have people on the scene. I'll be talking with experienced climbers tonight. We'll be keeping you posted on all the live developments, as they've been pretty good about coming out and dealing with the reporters and giving any new information that they may have.

So this search is in effect, going to go through this night. And we're going to be here in live coverage. Thanks very much, Fred. I know it was very stressful this afternoon, so much hope to see what might be in that snow cave or who might be there.

We are going to begin with the high hopes and the disappointments on Mt. Hood in the search for three missing climbers this hour. This is what we know right now. A Chinook helicopter dropped off rescue climbers near the spot where a snow cave was seen. They searched the cave and found a sleeping bag and two ice axes, but none of the missing men.

A "Y" sign had been spotted in the snow and the ice. Now "Y," as we understand, stands for "Yes" and is used by climbers as an emergency signal to indicate their location. Now we have been closely watching these rescue efforts over the last few hours.

Our Dan Simon is at the staging headquarters for the search in Hood River, Oregon, right now. So Dan, set the stage for us tonight as the sun is beginning to set there. What is going to happen? The search is continuing or literally may not be continuing on the ground?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the search is continuing. They're going to continue to investigate additional clues and leads that they were able to discover up at the snow cave.

And just to recap the day, there was a lot of excitement earlier when rescuers told us, when the authorities told us that by air they had discovered this snow cave and some equipment. And so what they did is they took a Chinook helicopter, they landed and the rescuers got off the chopper and made their way down a very steep terrain, the north face of the mountain.

They finally, after about an hour, they got to the snow cave. They went inside and it was empty. They felt like this was the area, this was the snow cave where Kelly James was holed up. You'll remember exactly one week ago, Kelly James called his family, said he was in a snow cave, said that he was in some sort of trouble and that the other two had gone for help.

Based upon the cell phone data, these pings, they were able to zero in on that location. They had tried to get there over the last several days, but the weather was just so intense that they couldn't get up there. The winds were whipping around. It was snowing. And quite frankly, it was just too dangerous to venture to that area.

Well finally, today, after a week's worth of time, of searching and sending crews up there, they finally got their window of opportunity to go investigate. So everybody was excited. They made their way down to that area, and, again, as I said, it was empty. In terms of where we go from here, that's really the question. We know that there was some footprints in that general vicinity.

LIN: Dan, and it's about 300 feet to the summit from that location, is that right? A relatively short distance?

SIMON: You're right. From the top of the summit to this part, this is what's called Eliot Glacier, only about 300 feet. And again, we just don't know what they have to act on at this point. Clearly, this was a setback. It's a setback for rescuers, it's a setback for the families who had, you know, thought and had prayed that something positive was going to be found here.

LIN: Dan, why would he leave cover? Why would he leave a warm pad, his ice picks and his rope, some supplies?

SIMON: I really can't answer that question. I mean, I can sort of speculate and guess, and what I would say is that this was a guy who was in trouble and the other two went for help, and then at some point, the other two came back for him and then perhaps the three of them huddled in a different location. That's really the only thing that you can sort of speculate on, but we really don't know what they were thinking and where they may have gone. We do know that they had a certain amount of equipment with them, they had some fuel and some sleeping bags and ropes and things, you know.

LIN: More supplies than we actually were led to believe in the very beginning, actually, which is probably a pretty good scenario. Dan, we're looking at this picture right now being sent to us by our affiliate KOIN. What we want to give people right now, in case they're just tuning in, is some perspective. I know that the light is changing in your location. But this appears to be the shaded side of the mountain and you see a group of people standing on what appears to be the ridge. The snow cave was, what, on the northeast side of the mountain?

SIMON: I believe it was on the northwest side of the mountain.

LIN: Northwest, OK.

SIMON: And what you're seeing there, that is the deployment area, where the rescuers got off the helicopter, they huddled in that general vicinity and then they made the descent down towards the snow cave. And they did that relatively quickly. They did that in about an hour. And, again, they're still up there at this point and looking for various clues to determine how they might proceed.

LIN: So, we know about the footprints, right? We don't know how many sets of footprints there might be, but the earlier briefing indicated that the footprints were pointing up towards the summit is that right?

SIMON: There were some footprints, apparently leading up towards the summit. But then at a certain point, they end and they really don't go anywhere. What that might be able to tell them, I really can't say at this point. And, you know, at a certain point, you don't want to take hope away.

LIN: Right.

SIMON: There's still a certain sense of optimism. But the question I have is, given the fact that this is such a clear day, there's so much activity in the air, a lot of noise, that if these climbers are able to make their presence known, that this is the day they would be able to do that. Unfortunately, we just haven't seen that. But, again, nobody is giving up. There's still a lot of optimism, Carol.

LIN: The picture that we're seeing here right now, it appears to be a summit of sorts, the snow cave, presumably, nearby there. It seems like a narrower search area. And you're right, it is such a beautiful day. These climbers have to be somewhere. It would seem, in just looking at this picture, that it would be pretty easy to spot with a number of rescuers standing on that ridge line.

SIMON: Yes, you might think so. But as you heard Rick Sanchez say, if they're buried deep in a snow cave, perhaps they wouldn't hear anything or be aware of anything that's going on.

Carol, where we are in this location, if we can go to a live picture, you can see another helicopter off in the distance, about to take off. This is one of these Chinook helicopters, as we try to bring up that picture. This is the same helicopter that landed earlier today which allowed the rescuers to get to that snow cave. LIN: All right. As we're looking at this live picture here, and as rescuers clearly are trying to retrace their steps, try to figure out the direction of the snow prints, the snow cave empty, we want to find out what would an experienced climber be thinking to leave that shelter. There must be some logic to it.

On the telephone right now is Jim Dagata. He is president of the Corvallis Mountain Rescue. Jim, your organization actually had a team searching on Tuesday. You have a member up there right now. What do you think happened? Why was the snow cave empty? Where would a climber go?

JIM DAGATA, CORVALLIS MOUNTAIN RESCUE (on phone): Well, that's something that's really difficult to speculate on as far as on what might be.

LIN: Am I asking you really though to speculate because if you're a trained climber and you've created shelter and you have a pad and you have your ice picks and rope with you, what would prompt you to leave that shelter?

DAGATA: Well, the only thing that would -- from a personal perspective that would prompt me to leave the shelter would be that I was out of fuel, food, water and the weather was good enough to come out and try and get out. There's other reasons, too, that you may get out of the shelter and leave. That would be medical reasons, but we really don't know, you know, what's happened at this point.

LIN: No, we don't. So at this point, they say they have footprints, they're not telling us yet how many sets of footprints to indicate whether it's one climber, two or three. Where do you go from there? The footprints were pointing up towards the summit.

DAGATA: Well, if they're pointing up towards the summit and they can find some of a track, you can take some guesses. But it depends on how old those prints were, what layer they were put in. The snow has been blowing.

I don't know if -- I'm not there. I don't know if they're current footprints, if they were put down in a snow pack from before that may have frozen up and then the snow that came down the past couple of days has just kind of blown off of it.

So, to tell how old they are, you know, from my perspective is just pure speculation. So you know, they just have to see what they can see from their perspective up there.

LIN: Jim, does it feel like the rescuers are starting from ground zero at this point or do they have a significant lead here?

DAGATA: Well, you know, to find some equipment and gear that, you know, is hopefully one of the climbers that they were searching for, in some ways, is a good thing. You know that they were there. Right now, it's just a matter of finding out to what direction they may have gone. The weather, hopefully, will hold. And maybe they'll find some more clues or some other ideas as far as which direction they've gone.

LIN: Three-hundred feet from the summit, which is where this snow cave approximately was located on the northwest of the mountain -- are you familiar with that area? Can you give us an idea of how much ground the searchers need to cover?

DAGATA: Well, you know, coming down from the Eliot to the Eliot Glacier, it's a pretty big area. It is glacial terrain, it's very steep on the head wall there. Going back down the other side, depending on how far they went, what conditions were at the time if they did, that basically you have just tremendous area of wilderness to go through if you don't make it down the proper route towards either Timberline or back towards Cloud Cap, which is where they started from.

LIN: All right, so it's still a relatively big search area?

DAGATA: Well knowing that they found the possible cave of one of the missing climbers, it gives you some indication that they at least knew which -- they were still en route at some point when they hunkered down.

And as far as whether they're going to be, you know, coming over the south side back toward Timberline or whether they actually knew enough of which way they were going and when they came out. If they came out in nasty weather, if the weather wasn't going to clear, if they didn't have any clear indication of that without a radio -- you know, weather report, you really don't know. So, they may have come out a little earlier. It's just really hard to say at this point.

LIN: Jim -- Jim Dagata, president of the Corvallis Mountain Rescue team that is involved in the search on Mt. Hood for these missing climbers. Jim, if you can stay on the line, I want to bring in Rick Sanchez. He's one of our correspondents who actually had done a series of survival stories out in the wilderness, out in the snow. And Jim, please chime in at any point. But Rick, you think you might have an answer as to why they might have -- they or one of the climbers might have left that snow cave?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Yes, Carol. And it's not the answer you're going to want to hear. It's probably not the answer that any one of us want to hear, but it's certainly one that needs to be considered.

It has to do with hypothermia. Hypothermia is a mysterious condition, which can cause people to become delusional. Unfortunately, when they become delusional, they start to feel and see things that are not necessarily there.

And this is described to me over and over again by some of the mountaineering experts that I met with Colorado, that people they have rescued and have gotten to in time, by the way, and those they didn't get to in time as well, who actually started shedding their clothing, thinking that they were no longer in life threatening, cold situation. But in rather, in fact, just the opposite -- that they were in a warm spring or something, because their mind literally started to convince them of that that.

And they would do irrational things, like leave the safety of their shelter and start walking in an opposite direction. Obviously, neither myself nor anybody else can know at this point if that is what happened.

LIN: No, and I think that's important.

SANCHEZ: It has to be considered as one of the possibilities when you try to explain why someone in those conditions could possibly do that. That's unfortunately, as difficult as it is to say and hear, one of the possibilities that has to be considered, according to all the experts that I talked to.

LIN: Jim, obviously, this was a heartbreaking development that they didn't find anybody inside that snow cave. But I would love for you to add to this conversation. The family may be watching. We want to assure people, we have no idea why that snow cave is empty. But it is a realistic scenario, it has happened to other climbers in the past?

DAGATA: That's correct. I would agree with that assessment and that is a possibility. We just saw that with the search down in the Grants Pass area here in Oregon a couple of weeks back, that hypothermia will -- severe hypothermia, you will start to feel warm, you'll start to undress, take off your clothes.

You also have the fact that you don't know the point of dehydration they were at, which will also affect how much sooner you'll go into hypothermia, as well as the energy level that you have and what kind of food you've had. Your brain works off of glucose and without enough of it, you know, you're not thinking right. And then the cold on top of it, with hypothermia, that is very much a possibility, realistically.

LIN: Jim, is it fair to say they have not found any other evidence other than what they've identified to us? They didn't say that they found articles of clothing or any other indications that anyone was delusional or taking off any clothing. Do you find comfort in that, the possibility that a climber or two or three may have actually found a different kind of shelter and are still awaiting help?

DAGATA: Well, that's always possible. You know, the thing is, when you come out of a shelter like that in bad weather and, again, we don't know when they may have left the shelter, the winds have been very high. And they've only just subsided today, basically.

So, once you take of anything out there, you know, it pretty much blows away. One of our members on Tuesday lost one of his ski poles. Basically, he didn't have the strap on and it flew right out of his hand and pretty much off the mountain. You know, one of the -- one of our team members basically had a hard time. They had a hard time standing up from the wind. It doesn't look like it all the time, you know, at least right now, it's very calm up there. But winds -- you get gusts. You've had a huge wind storm this past Thursday. It really didn't subside all the way until Friday morning or so. You really don't know what happened.

LIN: Jim, but here's what I'm hearing from you. I'm hearing that there was no compelling reason to leave that shelter, given what the weather has been up there, up until today.

DAGATA: Well, that's possible, other than the fact that, you know, it's hard to say what thoughts you have when you're up there. A compelling reason may be that you don't think that the weather is going to get any better and you may feel that you have to get out of there.

You've been in there for, you know, basically a week of time. And you don't know that the weather is going to clear. It's like, well, OK, I only have this much energy left. Maybe it's my turn to get out of here and try to go, instead of staying put. But that's just again, purely speculation and just my thoughts on it and not anything as to what may or may not have happened with the climbers up here.

LIN: Jim, feel free to stay on the line. Rick Sanchez is with us, who has done a series of survival stories for us in the last several weeks. He's on the phone with us from Atlanta. Let's go back to Dan Simon at the scene in Hood River County.

Dan, so, any briefing in sight at this point? What do you think is literally happening right now as it's about 45 minutes, perhaps, from sundown there?

SIMON: Carol, awfully loud here. So, I didn't quite hear your question. But can I bring in a guest here? This is Bill Pattison. He's here with Crag Rats. You're a search coordinator. Your guys were up there today. They were the one whose went into the snow cave, at least some of them did. As you told me, obviously, this is considered a setback.

BILL PATTISON, CRAG RATS: It is. They scoured out the cave that was made, and to the old ice around it. So they had anything that was in there, any evidence that they could pick up at all, personal property, we talked about, articles of food. I think it's previously been said what they found. And these searchers are going back to the summit now and the Chinook will pick them up and bring them here in a few minutes.

So we'll be able to get firsthand from those people who were on the scene as to what they found. They also took a lot of film up there, so that they can see what evidence there was, like, for instance, the footsteps that were leading away from the cave, up the mountain and disappeared.

And, also, there were tracks that went down the mountain and disappeared. They followed all those out, quite a ways, and that's why it's taken most of the day. Not only what they found in the cave, but getting the rest of the stuff collected.

SIMON: You're an expert when it comes to these massive kind of searches. Tell me, where do we go from here? I mean, as you said, as we've been talking about, this is a blow. The fact that nobody was found in the snow cave, don't have really any clues to go on, other than these footprints that really lead nowhere, where do we go?

PATTISON: OK. You know, hope springs eternal. And you look for some element of hope that will keep you going. Today it was the cave. We'll be out tomorrow. We still haven't collected all the information from the ground troops that are out there working, and because of darkness and hazards to those searchers, we're bringing them all back at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon and we'll have a critique tonight and we'll figure out what we're going to do tomorrow.

But you go. And the thing is, you have to consider the family in this deal. Some family members will give up immediately. Some never give up. And somewhere in between, is between the families and the sheriff and the military and all the volunteers are in there, there has to be a consensus as to what we're going to do. And if there's an answer, that will come up pretty soon this evening.

SIMON: So if I hear you correctly, the search on the ground is going to be over, at least for today, at 4:00 local time, in about 40 minutes, and then you'll evaluate in terms of how you proceed?

PATTISON: We will. We'll collect -- we have two or three base areas where the searchers are stationed, and will spend the night. We'll collect that information that they found. That will all be fed back to the operations here. And then the decisions will be made based upon what they have. You can suppose things a lot. Really, the facts are all we can work on.

SIMON: Just before you came on camera, we spoke for a moment or two about how this is such a beautiful day and that it was very noisy up there with all the aircraft and that it was your belief that if they were physically able to make their presence be known, that this is the day they would have done it?

PATTISON: That's true. If they had the physical and mental capabilities to respond to helicopters being over them, literally all day long, or two days now and nothing then. So, then you know their condition is very severe and they will not be able to respond. So, it's up to our people to locate them. And the cave was an opening today. It didn't work. Tomorrow, who knows, maybe something better.

SIMON: And I know you and all of the other rescue teams are doing really outstanding work. You've really given your heart and soul to this mission. And everybody is responding. And everybody is so thankful for the work you're doing.

PATTISON: Well, it's grateful to have it. However, you can have a successful mission and lose the ball game. And most of our work is done in Thunder Gorge (ph), with all the trails that go into the scenic area and everything. So we're kind of used to that success every time. And this one is pretty frustrating.

SIMON: Before you go, let me just give Carol Lin the opportunity to ask you any questions if she has any -- Carol? LIN: Yes. I'm just wondering if Jim can give us an idea, when he says physical and mental capabilities, how do you care for yourself, how do you keep yourself sane living in a snow cave in the middle of a white out day after day after day? It's been more than a week now.

PATTISON: That's pretty tough because Jim gave an overview of what the weather was. We don't know exactly what the weather was at the time that they built the cave. But we have to assume it was very severe.

As you probably know, they found an anchor system. Actually, two of them, one above and one below the cave, and that anchor system would have been put in to keep them literally tied to the mountain so that they could go ahead and work on the cave.

Why they abandoned this and why we have certain fragments of the rope, we'll know here shortly. There's a lot of unknown answers. But to keep you going, it's going to be up to the people that are there as far as searches are concerned.

What I'm really getting at is, we're going to have to do a lot of assessment. Jim pretty well covered what the physical and mental limitations are to the human body and we know they were traveling light. But then again, why would you leave a sleeping bag in a cave? So there's a lot of unanswered questions.

LIN: I know that Jim Dagata, the president of Corvallis Mountain Rescue did not want to quickly go down that road of hypothermia delusions, of the possibility that if not Kelly James, perhaps the other climbers may have suffered so much from the exposure that that decision making was beyond them.

We don't want to go there too quickly, because the rescuers are even saying that they are not giving up hope, and that we did hear from Brian Hall's father, who told reporters that, you know, it has been a roller coaster of emotions, but the insistence because of past stories of miraculous stories of people living in snow caves for two weeks or more, it is possible.

PATTISON: That's right.

LIN: Still possible. They made a decision to leave that cave for some reason, and that they could be still alive.

PATTISON: Well, recreation caves, which lots of people make, are warm and fuzzy and under ideal conditions. If you're injured, which we suspect one of the climbers reported that he was injured, we don't know the extent of those injuries. And, normally, when a person is injured, they decline faster than a full, healthy person.

So -- also, as Jim said earlier, your mental capabilities are the first to fail. And if you aren't getting the proper in nourishment and maintaining heat, your ability to survive is diminished by a lot.

LIN: But Jim, they didn't find any other evidence of clothing or a pack or anything else on the mountain top, outside that snow cave. Does that offer you hope?

PATTISON: Well it does, except to confuse it there's two sets of tracks that are exposed up there. And usually those tracks are made when it's been raining and then those footprints are frozen, and then the wind is so strong, that no snow ever accumulates in them.

So they tracked those footprints up the mountain to almost the summit, which is approximately 300 feet, and then they just petered out up there. They didn't go anywhere. They couldn't find any more steps anywhere. They covered the summit with -- suspecting that they may have made the summit. And proceed down the south side.

The other set of tracks that are down below the cave, they were kind of wandering around. They weren't in any particular direction. So, we say, why were they walking around in weather like this? As they say, there's a lot of unanswered questions.

LIN: So the frozen tracks indicate that Kelly James or one of the other climbers may have come out of the snow cave when the weather was at its worst. Is that what you're saying?

PATTISON: That could be. But we don't know the size of where we stand right now until this crew gets back in a few minutes. We don't know the size of that cave. Was it large enough to hold three climbers or was it a single person one? Maybe they never went in. They may have just put their one climber in there and had taken off, as we suspected early on. But these guys are going to be able to give us those answers here in a few minutes.

LIN: All right, do you know how far away we are from seeing some of those pictures?

PATTISON: Oh, the pictures that they took of the scene up there?

LIN: Right.

PATTISON: Well, Chinook has been out, what, about 15 minutes or so? I would look for it in maybe another maximum 45 minutes.

LIN: OK, so, perhaps sometimes in the next hour?

PATTISON: Yes. They're sending up there -- the rescue teams are up there, waiting for a pick up and will come right back to Hood River.

LIN: All right, so the ground search is going to end for the day, is that right?

PATTISON: Correct. They'll call at 4:00 p.m. because of the danger of being out there on the mountain. You can get rescue people injured too.

LIN: Jim, we're just watching as a Chinook helicopter just flew off the screen. So, the pick up should be happening shortly. And then tomorrow, if the weather holds, where do they start? PATTISON: OK. First, we'll have a critique tonight with all the information that has been gathered today. Both the ground people up there, those that have flown up, crew coming back, all of that will be put together. And then the command center will map out the plan for tomorrow and however long they want to feel that they need to go or where they go. We covered a lot of ground today. It was really -- thanks for the good weather. We had a lot of people out there. We eliminated a lot of areas we don't have to go back into. So, this is all going to be crunched, information, for us to make decisions on for tomorrow.

LIN: All right. Is it Bill Patterson, Pattison?

PATTISON: Yes, it is.

LIN: Bill Pattison, OK, Bill Pattison, the search coordinator up there in Hood River, Oregon, as we're taking a look at the side of the mountain. It appears to be the north side of the mountain, where they found a snow cave in a location where they were able to trace some cell phone pinging, a signal last week when Kelly James was able to call his family to say that he had taken shelter, that he was in trouble, that his fellow climbers, Brian Hall and Jerry Cook, had tried to make their way down the mountain.

Earlier today, about six hours ago, a rescue team in a Chinook helicopter spotted a trench dug, with ropes, signaling a shaping of the letter Y, which is a rescue signal. It's a climber's code to indicate location. And that there was a snow cave there. They could see a snow cave. They saw some tools nearby, rope, pick axes. They made their way carefully down from the summit on the ground to investigate to see if, in fact, this was the snow cave that Kelly James had called his family from a week ago or if the other two climbers were also with him. Brian Hall and Jerry Cook. About an hour and a half ago, we learned no one was inside. They only found something like a sleeping bag or a sleeping pad, some ice picks and the signal, the Y signal in the snow indicating that someone was there. They do believe it was Kelly James, perhaps as well as the other two climbers.

So, as we're watching a live picture of the Chinook helicopter, picking up in the process of picking -- sorry. That's not a Chinook helicopter, but that's one of the rescue helicopters on the scene as the sun is beginning to set there in the next 40 minutes. They're calling off the ground search for the night. Chinook helicopters though with infrared spotting devices, heat seeking sensors, will continue to fly through the night, trying to detect any body heat on the ground, near the summit. There will be a meeting later tonight as they map out their tactics for the next day. Of course, everybody is going to hope that the weather is going to hold here.

And let's turn to Jacqui Jeras at the CNN weather center to see if that's going to be possible. Jacqui, this was the first clear day in a couple of days, the ideal search day. They managed to find some clues, but so far no climbers. What can they look forward to tomorrow? JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Weather pretty much the same. We've got I think a really good 48-hour window here of some very clear conditions, lighter winds across much of the area. So we're expecting things to be pretty optimal over the next couple of days. There you can see the Portland area here. You can see Mt. Hood. The biggest trouble that they're dealing with is really the frigid cold temperatures. At 6,000 feet right now, the temperatures about 20 degrees. You have to calculate as you go up in elevation, the temperature is colder.

We don't have any observations up there around 11,000 feet, where that cave was found, and possibly the area where the climbers are. We're looking at temperatures estimated around 3 degrees at this hour. As that sun goes down tonight, that certainly is going to be dipping well below zero, so some very cold conditions. The winds, very light. In fact, they've only been around five to 10 miles per hour today and that's certainly helping with the visibility issues, with all of that snow pack on there. If we had a stronger wind, we would have problems with visibility. You would see that snow kind of blowing off the edges of the mountains.

One other thing tat we are concerned about, is that there's a moderate threat of avalanches. That is another danger. When you have anybody, any kind of humans or any kind of little ticks into that snow back, that could possibly trigger some kind of an avalanche. That will be a big concern over the next couple of days with one to three feet of fresh snow over the last few days. Carol?

LIN: All right. Thanks very much, Jacqui. We still have with us Jim Dagata. He is the president of the Corvallis mountain rescue. There was a team involved in this rescue operation, a member still on the mountain side. Jim, Jacqui Jeras was just talking about the possibility of or the danger at least of avalanches, usually human triggered. Give us an appreciation for the rescuers who made it to the summit and had to climb down 300 feet at least to where they thought this snow cave was and how difficult that was, because I don't think, even in looking at the pictures coming into the CNN center that people really appreciate the steepness, the conditions, the winds and the blowing snow when you're at the top of that mountain.

VOICE OF JIM DAGATA, CORVALLIS MT. RESCUE UNIT: The weight at the top is very calm, an excellent day to

LIN: Jim, we don't have a good connection with you on the telephone. Let's see if we can clear that up so that we can hear you.


LIN: Jim was describing conditions at the summit where the search was focused today, where they managed to spot a snow cave and some climbers' tools. Jim, go ahead. Let's try again.

DAGATA: Is that better?

LIN: Yes. DAGATA: OK. From the aerial photos, the winds right now are very light. They're very calm. It's a great time to be able to get out and search from the summit compared to the rest of the week while the temperatures are cold. If you take a look at some of those photos, a lot of that terrain has actually already sluffed off where it hadn't even stuck. It looked like there's some slabs that have come off already. It is really hard to tell. They did stick to a bit of a ridge there. It is very steep terrain. They did have ropes down there. They were using all the safety precautions. They were, it looked like, anchored into the top. But, yes, it's difficult terrain to get down, potentially dangerous. Of course, coming back up is -- with a pack and with equipment is definitely a physical strain.

LIN: If they were to actually find somebody, how long would it take for them to get them down the mountain and to a hospital?

DAGATA: Again, that really depends on where they find someone and whether it's something that's approachable by one of the 1042nd National Guard Blackhawks where they could lower down a hoist and bring them up if it's not super steep terrain. Or one of the rescue teams -- I'm not sure who is actually on the mountain right now, whether it's Portland mountain rescue or the Crag Rats, any rescue teams or whether it's the 304th or some of the 1042nd PJs (ph). But there's ways to either raise up to the top or lower down to the bottom or to a safe area, people in litters. And it could take a couple of hours to come up 300 feet or to go down 300 or 600 or even more feet, depending on what the conditions are and what they needed to do.

LIN: Why does it take so long? Why would that be so difficult?

DAGATA: You have to set a lot of safety and you want to make sure that you've got somebody that going to be a litter attendant. You can't put the aircraft in danger as well. That happened a few years back with an unfortunate accident up there with some folks on the other side near the (INAUDIBLE). But you have to set lines, 300 feet of line, ropes are 300 to 600. There's a lot of issues that have to contend with and systems, making it safe so you don't injure a rescuer.

LIN: Some of those drops look like they were just sheer walls of rock covered with powdered snow.

DAGATA: Some of them are. And you need to either go straight up or straight down. And that's what mountain rescue does.

LIN: Jim, I also want to explain to our audience -- we've been talking about this snow cave. We've been talking about a Y signaling dug out, a signal to indicate direction and the fact that a climber was there. The reason why we can't show that to you, that we're not getting any tape or live pictures of that snow cave is because the news helicopters have been held back. They don't want any of the wind from the helicopters to disturb any of the evidence on the ground. So, they have banned any air traffic beyond the Chinooks and the Blackhawks that are involved in the rescue operation. We're waiting to see photos from that scene. So we'll be able to see the tools that were left behind, the rope, the snow cave itself, give us an idea of how deep it may be, how big, it may be an indication of how many climbers were inside, perhaps just one, perhaps all three. When we do get those pictures, Jim, what are you going to be looking for?

DAGATA: Well, to be honest, the only thing would be what is actually found and what the searchers will come down and report. The snow cave being empty, there isn't really anything to really look for, other than what gear was left behind, possibly how big it was. You want a snow cave to be fairly compact, if it's one person, you basically want one person to fit into it. Otherwise, you have a lot more air space to have to heat up and to stay warm. So, you know, that's just kind of one of the ways you build them. So, it really depends on, you know, how it was built and things like that. It's hard to really say what you would learn from any of that, the gear left behind. Hopefully, they'll be able to take a look and examine it, maybe it was just one person's gear, if the other guys had their own stuff to get up the rest of the way and started to (INAUDIBLE) down the south side.

LIN: Been talking about Bill Pattison, the search coordinator with the Crag Rats who have a team up there, who are involved in the rescue operations. He was saying that the location where the snow cave was found, it would have been very difficult to build that snow cave, even under ideal conditions, but they were building it in the middle of a snow storm. He said that there were ropes that were laid out on that mountainside. Can you give us an idea of what that means? Did they have to tie themselves down in order to build this cave?

DAGATA: I think Bill pretty much said it. They had anchors there, which would have held them on while they dug into the side of the mountain for a snow cave. It does possibly indicate from the phone call, the information that I have that, you know, one person may have been injured and that they stayed in a cave and the other two, you know, apparently went in search of aid. And the two tracks, as Bill said in the snow, we put down where the snow was still wet and then froze. You don't know when those were down. That does give some indication that they had basically done some kind of a bit of a self rescue and tried to get out.

LIN: And in tying themselves down, because of the wind conditions, and you say that they were anchored, well, for the layperson, what does that mean? They had to actually pound metal pins into the side of the mountain so they could tie themselves down to the rock?

DAGATA: Yeah. It wouldn't be the wind so much at the time likely that would have been the problem, as much as the steepness of the slope. If you go sliding down on a slope like that, without your ice ax and you're trying to dig a hole, you wouldn't have your ice axe in your hand. You have to do what's call a self arrest and stop yourself from sliding. It's a long way down. There could be anything from other hazards, such as rocks or crevasses below you. It's hard to say this time of year, without having been on the mountain on that side this year at this time of the season, early, what the conditions were. But you would anchor yourself in with either ice screws or pickets or things called snow cleats (ph) or some other method that would anchor you into the snow to your harness with some webbing so that you could work around it and be safe so if you slipped, you wouldn't go off the mountain.

LIN: Because in a fall like that, it's a fall where you basically might not even stop until you hit something?

DAGATA: You basically -- yeah. You're not really going to stop unless you can stop arrest until you hit the bottom.

LIN: A friend of mine was training to climb Mt. Rainier and just in the training exercise, he pulled his arm out. I mean he pulled his arm straight out of his socket, so that is something that's difficult to do. You don't want to find yourself in that situation.

DAGATA: The proper training and if you let that ice axe get ahead of you and come out of your arms or not, you don't have your body weight, your chest on top of it, yeah, you can easily dislocate a shoulder or lose your ice ax. A lot of things can happen.

LIN: Jim, I'm just trying to give people an appreciation, as we're looking at these pictures and it looks so serene. It looks beautiful and serene and it almost looks climbable when you take a look at some of these shots. We don't have the proper perspective as you might standing in the summit and looking straight down of what it took, that will to live, the desire for survival in the most extreme circumstances in dealing with the unexpected where three friends are finding themselves on that mountain side, having to build a shelter, protect one of their friends and anchor themselves to the side of the mountain in the middle of a snow storm. I just want people to appreciate what that must have been like for them.

DAGATA: Well, it becomes -- it's a difficult situation when you're looking at storms coming in, when you're climbing, that's one of the hazards of climbing. Injuries involved as well as weather. And, you know, watching out for each other. That's what a climbing team does. It's really hard to say what kind of things they were going through, what the injury, the potential injuries were if any and what their decision making process was. Things happen. You have to have the experience and the knowledge to get together. They apparently have that from a lot of climb experience, many years of climbing. At this point, we just don't know. It's too much to speculate. Mountaineers and climbers, these things happen. We climb mountains and we do other types of activities that sometimes they are dangerous. Things happen.

LIN: I'm talking with Jim Dagata. He's the president of the Corvallis mountain rescue. Jim is involved in the search as an in- town coordinator and the unit had a team from their group searching on Tuesday. They have a member up there now. Is that member still up on the mountain?

DAGATA: I honestly don't have any current reports on that. I haven't heard from them. I'm actually not the in-town coordinator for today. That's another one of our members, Joy Lynn. I was in-town coordinator for the Tuesday search that we sent the team up. It's unfortunate that we couldn't send more members, but we are a fairly small team. Other issues prevent us from going. We're all volunteers. But Portland mountain rescue and the Crag Rats (AUDIO GAP) may not be aware of are up there, along with the 1042nd and the 304th and they're all a great bunch of climbers and rescuers and highly trained and skilled.

LIN: Yes. As we're watching one of the Blackhawk helicopters involved in the rescue operation, live pictures coming in from our affiliate, KOIN and KPTV of Mt. Hood, Oregon. I'm talking with Jim Dagata. He's the president of the Corvallis mountain rescue. You were involved on a very, very tough day, Tuesday, very tough day. And as people take a look at (AUDIO GAP) what is the worst situation you ever found yourself in?

DAGATA: Actually, probably the worst situation I've ever found myself in was on white water river, remote river with an issue where I actually ended up in a situation where I was the person that needed help. And ended up having to swim through the rapids and I had mild hypothermia. So in mountaineering, in climbing, I've been out in all kinds of weather. But I have not been in any kind of a situation where I felt I was really in danger there.

LIN: That your life was threatened. So, if you were running the search tomorrow, where would you start? What would you do?

DAGATA: Oh, I honestly could not speculate at all on that without having all the information, you know, being an in-town coordinator this past Tuesday was difficult, because I can see what the weather's doing and I just don't have a whole lot of idea other than phone calls, e-mails and stuff of what's going on and you're just hoping that your team and the rescue team (INAUDIBLE)

LIN: All right. Excuse me. Jim, I'm just --

DAGATA: Go ahead.

LIN: All right. Jim Dagata?


LIN: We just got word from the sheriff. Do we have the sheriff with us right now? We have just gotten word that a climber has been found. He is dead. We don't know which climber it is. Jim, stay on the line, if you can. Dan Simon at the scene. Dan, what have you learned?

SIMON: Well, Carol, CNN can now confirm that one of the climbers was found dead a short while ago on Mt. Hood. That's all the information we have at this point. We're waiting to get some briefings from the authorities, but we can confirm now that one of the climbers was found dead. We don't know if he was in a snow cave. We really don't have any details like that. Of course, this follows a day of a lot of excitement, because they had isolated the snow cave. They thought perhaps that they were going to find some survivors and perhaps there are some survivors up there. There's still two men up there. We don't know their fate, but one of the climbers is confirmed dead, Carol.

LIN: Dan, do you know whether the body of this climber was found close to the location where we've been focusing on today, the northwest side of the mountain where that snow cave was built?

SIMON: Carol, just don't have any of that information. All we were told is that they did, in fact, find one of the climbers. We don't know where he was. We don't know which climber it is. We're going to get that information in a few minutes, hopefully.

LIN: All right. Dan, I hear it in your voice. I think we all feel the disappointment and the pain. There was so much hope there when this snow cave and these tools and the help signal was seen by one of the rescuers in the Chinook helicopter that was up in the air about five hours ago. Jim Dagata, I'm wondering if you're on the telephone with us right now, your reaction.

DAGATA: Well, it's disappointing. And I'm sure it will be for all of the searchers up there, that a difficult thing. But, you know, not a whole lot else I can say about that.

LIN: I understand. As we're looking at live pictures, Jim, on our screen from our affiliate, we're seeing a Chinook helicopter hovering over what appears to be a ridge line. If you can see this picture -- can you?

DAGATA: Yes, I can.

LIN: You can. Can you give me an idea of what you think is going on right now?

DAGATA: You know, I really can't tell what's going on. The Chinook is obviously capable of high altitudes. It looks like it may be ready to bring it in. I'm not sure exactly what they're going to do there.

LIN: It looks like somebody is coming out.

DAGATA: It looks like they have a PJ on a hoist and they may be lowering someone.

LIN: And a PJ is?

DAGATA: Basically, they're the highly trained para jumpers, rescue guys from -- I'm not sure which unit the Chinook is from.

LIN: Are you thinking that -- I think we're looking right now at the south side of the mountain, the sunny side of the mountain and the Chinook is lowering somebody on the shaded side, the north side. So, do you think this may be -- it appears to be a recovery of a body?

DAGATA: I really have no idea. I couldn't speculate on that. I don't see a whole lot there on the photo and what's going on.

LIN: OK. A short time ago, when we were talking, there was a shot of what appeared to be a large face of the mountain and there was a grouping of what appeared to be about -- anywhere from 10 or 20 people close together. I'm wondering if that may have been the scene where they were -- where they found the climber.

DAGATA: I don't have any other information at this time and I really don't know.

LIN: OK. Jim, I'm sorry. I don't mean to put you on the spot here. I know that it's speculative. You're not up there. We're just trying to draw from your knowledge and taking a look at these pictures, your knowledge of a rescue and recovery operation. In case you're just tuning in, we have just learned and confirmed with the sheriff's department out there -- I think it's the Hood River sheriff's department, that a climber has been found. The body of a climber has been found about six hours after early reports that rescuers had identified a snow cave on the northwest side of Mt. Hood about 300 feet from the summit. When they got to that snow cave about a few hours later, nobody was inside. But there were a set of footprints, two sets of footprints, according to one of the search coordinators, one set of footprints leading up toward the summit and another set of footprints leading down and running in a circular pattern indicating someone might have been disoriented. There is a press conference that's about to start. Let's listen in.

CAPT. MIKE BRAIBISH, OREGON NATIONAL GUARD: We've been collecting information throughout the day. One piece of information that we got late in the day is that there was a secondary snow cave that was discovered. Climbers, our climbers did get inside the snow cave and have confirmed that there is one fatality. We do not have the identity of that individual at this time. We're going to do everything we can to get you more information, but to say anything beyond that at this point would be speculation and we're not going to go down that road. We'll get more information out to you, but to make it clear, we have determined that there is one fatality at this time. I don't have those details at this time. What I have for you is that there is one fatality. We'll get more information to you later.

QUESTION: Has the family been notified?

BRAIBISH: The families are aware of the situation. Thank you, everyone. All right. Yes. Our plan is to bring everyone off the mountain that we can. Everyone that went up by air, we'll get them off. Those that were -- that climbed up today, they're climbing off the mountain. Our hearts are going out to the families right now. The searchers are putting their heart and soul into this. We still keep that common focus that we all have. There is a common focus. We continue to search. We continue to look. We remain optimistic. We remain hopeful. We're going to still collect information and we are going to proceed with this. We continue to proceed with this as a rescue for the two remaining climbers. I don't have the identity at this time.

QUESTION: Can you state the location where this person was found? Is it in the approximate area where rescue crews believe that Kelly James was --

BRAIBISH: Do you have any details on where the cave was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From everything that we have been told, it sounds like it was in the area of where the actual PJs were lowered down on to the mountain. So, it's all going to be up in that same vicinity. I would assume it was probably in the same area, as the cell phone call came from, because there was a broad area that could have encompassed.

QUESTION: Is everyone coming down now?


QUESTION: How are they getting down? Clearly, it's late.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Based upon the hour, I would hope that the people that are up there are going to be hoisted, but there may be some people that will be coming down on foot.

BRAIBISH: We don't know which climbers exactly found them.

QUESTION: What about the other two? Is there speculation they are in another snow cave somewhere else?

BRAIBISH: We're not going to speculate. We're going to deal with facts.

QUESTION: What about the possibility of any other footprints, anything (INAUDIBLE) ?

BRAIBISH: What needs to happen right now is, all the information that has been collected today -- remember, despite the fact that we had that focal point, we continued to search with the crews, with their boots on the ground on that mountain. We continue to search from the air, from the helicopters. We're going to take all -- any information that we obtain today, the sheriff is going to take a look at that information and determine what the course of action is going to be. I don't have that, as of right now.

QUESTION: Tell me about what you'll do tomorrow morning. Back on the mountain?

BRAIBISH: Again, what's going to have to happen is, the sheriff needs to take a look at all the information that is out there right now. The sheriff will be the one who makes a determination as to what the next course of action is. And I want to emphasize, we have been continuing to search across that mountain on foot and from the air. There are going to be new data points that we have. The sheriff will make a decision based on that information that's out there and he'll determine that course of action. As of right now, we'll -- as soon as we know what we're going to do, we'll get out here together and we'll get you updated and we'll brief you on that.

QUESTION: What are the plans for the body at this point?

BRAIBISH: Right now, we need to determine what's going to be the safest way to make a recovery.

QUESTION: Is that likely tomorrow then?

BRAIBISH: I don't know. I don't know exactly when that's going to happen.

QUESTION: Has the family of this victim been notified? BRAIBISH: The families have been notified that there is a fatality. Again we do not have the identity of which climber that is and we're not going to speculate about which climber we found tonight.

QUESTION: Do you know how they came across the discovery? (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really don't have that at this time. Unfortunately, the people that made this discovery are still up on the mountain. We're going to need to talk with them when they come back down. Once we've done that, we may be able to give you a further briefing at that time, but it's going to be once we've had an opportunity to speak with them.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) separate cave...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct. This is not the original cave that we found earlier today. It's a secondary cave that was located in the general area.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's a snow cave.

QUESTION: Do you have an approximate distance between the two caves?


QUESTION: Did the footprints lead from one cave toward the second cave? Is that how you found them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, this is all the information that I don't have at this time.


CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines