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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Identity of Dead Climber Not Yet Released; Air Search for Missing Climbers Will Continue Past Sunset
Aired December 17, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAPTAIN MIKE BRAIBISH, OREGON NATIONAL GUARD: I think what's going to be best for us to do right now is for us to go back in and start assessing the information that's coming in and we will ask you to please bear with us as we try to sort out the details that are coming in.
And when we have new information, we will let you know. At this point though, I don't think is anything new that we can add at this point. But rest assured, once we have definitive answers about what the next steps are, we will let you know.
These families have come together and they have been very strong. I can't even begin to imagine the grief of losing someone, but not knowing who it is. We're going to find out as soon as possible and we're going to let those families know. They deserve that. Thank you.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. That is concluding the news conference by Captain Mike Braibish. He's with the Oregon National Guard and obviously just bereaved to bring this news to reporters, as families have been told that a body has been found of a climber on Mt. Hood.
All he could tell us is that this climber has not been identified. The body has not been identified and that is what the families have been told. The families now dealing with the news that one of their loved one is dead, but not knowing who.
What we do know is that there was a second snow cave apparently found in the same area that they had identified that first snow cave that they had spotted from the air as a rescuer flew over close to the summit on the northwest side of Mt. Hood. There was a second snow cave found as they described in the same area as the area as the area where Kelly James last Sunday made a cell phone call to his family to say that he was in trouble and that he was building a snow cave and that the other two climbers he was with, his friends, Brian Hill and Jerry Cooke, had tried to make their way down the mountain.
Sad news indeed. They are going to be working on what he called new data points, new evidence found on the mountainside to try to find the other two climbers. They remain optimistic.
Rob Marciano joins me now on the CNN set here. Rob, you have climbed Mt. Hood. Well not to the degree that these climbers have, but you have been in the area. I'm sure as you look at these pictures you have an appreciation for the conditions that the rescuers are working in.
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, these conditions are amazing. And let me disclaim first of all, aggressive hiking would be. I'm not a technical climber by any means. And summitting Mt. Hood is something that can any amateur can do. You and I can do with some training and a guide and the right equipment usually in the spring time, April, May or June.
These guys obviously now attempting this winter climb in a more aggressive route. But the weather conditions today -- we have a saying in Portland, a place I worked for six years -- in the wintertime, if you can't see Mt. Hood and you can see it from just about any higher point in the Portland area, if you can't see it in the wintertime, it is raining. And if you can see it, well, it's going to rain shortly.
Meaning, you don't get these kind of days very often. This would be considered a blue bird day in the Rocky Mountains, something that climbers, hikers and skiers would covet. This is a rare day to see this kind of visibility and low winds up on the mountain.
Down the mountain, I believe Dan Simon is waiting for us right now. Dan, are you there?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey, Rob, I'm here. Obviously heartbreaking news as you heard Captain Braibish say just a moment ago, now the focus is on recovery for this body and then keep their efforts up to find the other two -- to find the other two missing men.
At this point we don't know if that recovery is going to take place this evening or tomorrow. They're not releasing the identity of this climber. We do know that the families have been notified of the fatality. And right now we're just in waiting mode to see how this is going to proceed.
We know that just a short while ago that the mission on the mountain today is done. They're evacuating most of the personnel, as you see people being brought onto the Chinook helicopter. It is heartbreaking. This is what we feared. There was so much optimism throughout the search over the last week and just getting word a few minutes ago that one of the climbers has been found dead.
MARCIANO: Dan, it ended at 4:00 today as far as the search goes as you mentioned. Right now we're looking at pictures of the Chinook air lifting those rescuers back up on the helicopter. What time tomorrow morning do they hope to get the search for the other two climbers going?
SIMON: Well they have been starting at dawn the last couple of days. And Rob, you know much better than I in terms of the weather, but from what I'm told, the weather is supposed to be pretty good tomorrow. So that's not going to hamper the search.
But they've been getting a very early morning start these last few days and presumably the same will occur tomorrow. In terms of the discovery of this one body, that may change things a bit in terms of how long some of the personnel will stay on the mountain, if in fact they want to do a nighttime recovery of this body. And we asked at the news conference just a short while ago if that was going happen, and he couldn't elaborate. He didn't know -- Rob?
MARCIANO: Most of the rescuers today, were they brought in by Chinook helicopters like this one or did some of them start from the Cloud Cap area, which is close to where you're based on the south side of the mountain in the Timberline area or the Silcox Lodge area? Were most of them brought in, air lifted in or did some climb?
SIMON: Well, this was called a full-court press. Some started at the bottom and hiked their way up. But in terms of those who had focused on that snow cave, the helicopter brought them to a location near the cave and they did a drop. And in terms of where this body was found, we know that it was found in a second cave apparently very close to the first one.
Again, I can't stress the range of emotions that has really occurred today. You know, this started out as being a very hopeful mission when we got wind that they had actually discovered this snow cave and had seen some equipment and the fact that they had finally had the good weather to attempt this mission, this rescue.
They got there. The first snow cave was empty. We thought that the day perhaps was going to be pretty much be wrapped up and they were going to go into tomorrow and figure out where they were going to go from here, essentially. And then a short while ago confirmation that they had found this body in this second snow cave, Rob.
MARCIANO: What are the hopes like or how is the optimism now concerning this news for the other two climbers? Any sense that the family members are still holding strong in their hope to find the other two alive?
SIMON: I can't really speak to that, Rob. I haven't seen any of the family members. Obviously everybody is devastated. I think the fact that nobody had responded to the helicopters and the planes that were in the air and the fact you had so many people on the ground, it was such a clear day that you would think that if they had the strength to make their presence known, that they would have done so. I don't want to speak for anybody but clearly the fact that you have one fatality doesn't bode well for the others.
MARCIANO: No, it doesn't. Nonetheless, we'll continue to hold out hope. Dan Simon, close to the bottom of Mt. Hood for us. Stay with us, Dan. We'll come back to you throughout the evening for sure -- Carol?
LIN: Rob, a short time ago we heard a briefing by Captain Mike Braibish of the Oregon National Guard. And he was clearly broken up talking with reporters, talking about the fact that they had to tell the families that a body had been found, but they didn't know who. They want to be sure when they deliver the news that they know who they actually found in that second snow cave. On the telephone with me right now is Jim Whittaker. He climbed Mt. Rainier 80 times. He was the first American to climb Mount Everest and he has survived in snow caves in the past.
Jim, as we're taking a look at the live pictures here of a Chinook helicopter, it appears to be picking up the ground rescuers close to the summit. I'm wondering what your thoughts are as we just learned that one of the climber's bodies was found. If we have Jim Whittaker on the line? Perhaps not. Let's see if we can get Jim Whittaker back, an experienced climber who added his voice to our coverage.
And so many people were so optimistic, Rob, and still the National Guard and sheriff's office continue to maintain their optimism, the possibility that they can find other two climbers still alive. Some possibility that they are deep in a snow cave which our Rick Sanchez, who did a series on surviving in the wild indicated that they are pretty soundproof. So you know, I think everybody is just reaching for the possibility that there will be a better outcome.
MARCIANO: All week long, people have been optimistic. And certainly all week long people have been following this story, have been thinking what maybe people don't want to say or don't want to ask that question.
You want to keep that hope eternal. And throughout the days and throughout this past week, there have been these survival stories coming out. There was a group of climbers back in 1976 that were stranded much like these guys were on Mt. Hood.
They decided to climb it, they were young guys, 16, 18, 20-years- old. And decided to go up there on New Year's and they got stuck for 12 or 13 days. Now what was alarming to me this morning or this afternoon when they had discovered that cave was that it is on the northwest side. And you all know all that heavy weather they had last week coming in. So that's the more exposed side of the mountain than would be say if they were to stay on the northeast side, where they originally climbed.
LIN: Right. One of the people -- the search coordinator -- one of the search coordinators was describing how they had to anchor themselves. They found ropes and anchors and they had to tie themselves to the mountainside in order to build that initial snow cave, presumably to shelter Kelly James, who indicated to his family that he had been injured.
So to have to work in those extreme conditions to try to save their friend and then try to get help and I think that the best that they could hope for now -- I don't know.
Let's talk with Jim Whittaker, who is back on the telephone. Jim climbed Mt. Rainier some 80 times, the first American to climb Mt. Everest. He has lived in snow caves, found himself in the situation of needing to cling to that survival instinct.
Jim, we have just learned they found the body of one of the climbers. They haven't identified this climber, in a second snow cave close to the first snow cave that they spotted about six hours ago. I'm just wondering what your reaction is to the news?
JIM WHITTAKER, MOUNTAIN CLIMBER (on phone): It's too bad. It's very unfortunate. I can't understand the second snow cave. Perhaps the first one collapsed or failed or something like that and so they had to dig another one, I don't know. But as I said before, the caves are very effective.
I met Senator Robert Kennedy up the mountain named after President Kennedy in the Yukon, Canadian Yukon. It was the first ascent, and we lived in the snow cave for a while. In fact, it was so nice that on the outside of black spray paint, said a Senate chamber and on the inside we spray painted on the wall, members only.
That was very comfortable. But to have a second cave, it sounds like maybe the first one failed or something and they tried to dig another one. And perhaps the other two left for help and I don't know.
LIN: But Jim, let's go over some of the things that we do know. Because there is obviously so much that we don't know. We don't know which climber they found in that second snow cave. We do know that Kelly James made a phone call to his family a week ago, saying that he was in a snow cave and that the other two climbers had gone for help.
The snow cave that they found earlier today was in the vicinity -- in fact both of these snow caves are in the vicinity of where that cell phone call took place. They found two sets of footprints around the first snow cave. One set going up toward the summit and another one set going down and kind of in a circular pattern.
It concerned people I talked to about an hour ago that perhaps hypothermia may have set in. There might have been delusions, confusion. But if it was one climber in that first snow cave, is it possible -- the question is why would he have left that shelter and no indication that it had failed. They didn't say the condition of the snow cave. And yet was able to build a second snow cave? I mean, what are the scenarios that run through your mind?
WHITTAKER: It doesn't sound practical that he would have gone to another cave and dug another cave. Actually, there's quite a bit of energy required. So I would assume that the two left and he didn't go with them because he was too weak or had a sprained ankle or had some reason, elected to stay in the cave while the other two went down for help.
I would think that it might be all three gone and that one left in the cave wasn't physically capable. So for him to go and dig another cave would require a great bit of energy and so forth. I don't know what that portends, but it doesn't sound practical. It's quite a bit of effort to dig a good little cave, unless it was just a hole that he crawled into. And some people just drop into a crevasse to hide out the storms, and so forth, and then come back out. But I don't know. That second cave is sort of a mystery. LIN: And the first cave had a sleeping bag or at least a sleeping pad, rope, ice picks, basic tools that you would think that the climber who built that snow cave would need if he were to leave.
WHITTAKER: Well, no, you need a shovel to dig -- an ice axe is not a -- you can't dig a real snow cave with an ice axe or with, you know -- you need a shovel to dig a good snow cave.
And they make small, affordable shovels that you carry that are very lightweight that people take in preparation for digging caves and so forth. So it sounds like the ice axe probably belonged to the fellow that was found inside that other cave.
The others would have taken their ropes and axes, I would think, unless they felt they were below the crevasse line.
LIN: So what do you think has happened to the other two?
WHITTAKER: Well if that was me and I had to leave someone, we would leave them as comfortable as we could, blankets, sleeping bags, and so forth and say, here's a good book, start to read it. We'll be back as soon as we can get help and then head down the mountain. I don't know if they have any GPS global positioning systems, that can locate anything anywhere within a few hundred feet.
LIN: Apparently not. It has been almost 10 days.
WHITTAKER: So they probably didn't have GPS, but anyway they would have headed down and unfortunately while there's things waiting for them, a crevasse to fall into, these's avalanches, heavy snow. And there's just hypothermia if you get weaker. You just slow down. I have been in situations where you get so hypothermic and you slow down so much, it's very easy to just lie down, go to sleep.
LIN: And that's something obviously we hope has not happened. The possibility that these two climbers, two other climbers may still be alive. The Oregon National Guard holding out that hope, Jim. But clearly, on a day like today, on that mountain, wouldn't you come out and do everything you could to make your presence known on a clear, cloudless, sunny day?
WHITTAKER: Yes, this is the day to do it. This is the day to get down. And you know, we always said the summit was optional. To get down is mandatory. And so that's the thing. The minute you can get some weather, a break, you head down. Where there's more air, you go into thick air, where you can breathe better, where it is warmer, where there's the comforts of civilization.
LIN: All right, Jim Whittaker, thank you very much. Jim Whittaker, former president and CEO of REI Recreational Equipment Incorporated. An experienced climber talking about the possibilities for the other two climbers as the rescue operation -- they still continue it, still continue to call it a rescue operation.
MARCIANO: That's encouraging enough. You start calling it a recovery and that's when things really look down. But still being optimistic here. And one thing to be optimistic about Carol obviously is the weather, which Mr. Whittaker mentioned. Now we've got clear blue skies there, seemingly light winds. Jacqui Jeras for us in the Weather Center to kind of give us a little insight on what's going on weather-wise -- Jacqui?
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, a little on the chilly side at this hour. Estimating the temperature right around zero degrees right now. And that's one of the concerns when you have such clear skies during the day and then in the nighttime hour, any heat that was absorbed by the earth during the day, it escapes back into the atmosphere. And then when those skies are clear, it escapes very rapidly.
So temperatures tonight we think could drop down as low as into the range of maybe the teens below zero. Maybe even down to 15 below or so. So some very brutal conditions in terms of temperatures out there for tonight.
But with the clear conditions, the sun is going to be back out tomorrow. We're expecting temperatures to be warmer, even warmer than they were today. So we hit a high maybe around 20 degrees around 11,000 feet. We're looking at the temperature tomorrow maybe 22 to 25 degrees so the conditions should be good again tomorrow with very light winds, maybe on the range of 5-to-10 miles an hour.
I think we've got a good maybe 48-hour window here of some very tranquil conditions across the area and then we do have another storm system, which is developing into the Gulf of Alaska. And that's something we're going to have to watch really closely over the next couple of days as we work on our recovery and hopefully still some rescue efforts as that storm system is going to be coming down into the Pacific Northwest, bringing in the clouds, bringing in some winds, and also bringing in some rain and snow.
We think that will happen as early in the coastal areas probably on Wednesday morning midday and then maybe moving over towards the Mt. Hood area as we approach the evening hours on Wednesday night into Thursday and possibly even lingering into Friday. But overall, very tranquil conditions, very nice. Just very, very cold tonight again, possibly down into the teens -- Rob?
MARCIANO: That's big-time cold Jacqui, but what -- those models that are showing this next storm coming in, any indication as to how strong winds might be? Hopefully not as bad as what we saw two days ago.
JERAS: Yes, you know, it looks like it's not going to be quite as potent of a system as we saw last go around. So hopefully we're not looking at those Category 2 hurricane force winds pulling on in. We'll have to see as the system continues to organize itself. It looks like it will be somewhat of a vigorous storm, but not quite as bad as what we saw the last time around.
MARCIANO: It's nice to see that satellite picture showing that moisture heading up into British Columbia.
JERAS: Yes, everything is going up and over right now, so good two days probably.
MARCIANO: All right, and you know -- thanks, Jacqui.
Sometimes it takes unfortunately the big storm that rolled through the Pacific Northwest two days ago, Jacqui, as you know when you get a big storm like that to come through, that will be the kicker. That will get that pattern changing and that's the main reason that we have that clear sky today and the next couple days.
So unfortunately you pay the price, but there is some good news with that wind storm that comes through. They now have the clear skies. Thanks, Jacqui, we'll be back to you in just a little bit.
Like I said, you don't see many clear days like this. So and they're getting things done on the mountain. Unfortunately today, not the best of news as far as finding one of those climbers dead and hopefully we'll have better news tomorrow.
LIN: Yes. You could see it even hearing from our crews and Dan Simon out in the field, it was a roller coaster of emotions. They just simply reflected what the families have said that they have been going through. Brian Hall's family, one of the climbers father's spoke to reporters and just said that it is such an intense experience here, but they are so confident in their loved ones abilities, they have hopes and prayers.
The National Guard up there is still keeping hope alive that the two other climbers will be found, could be found alive. We have been talking about remarkable stories of survival. People who have lived in snow caves for more than a week, two weeks at a time. Interesting that some of these experienced climbers describe it as cozy, that you can actually make it comfortable.
And our Rick Sanchez was talking about how -- he showed in one of his pieces, you light a candle, you put it in an empty coffee can and you can get the temperature in your snow cave up to 45 degrees as long as you can stay warm and you've got water, hard to imagine though surrounded by so much snow how you can be dehydrated.
MARCIANO: Well if you run out of fuel, you need fuel in that little stove to melt that snow. If you are eating the snow, you are dropping your internal body temperature and it is kind of not serving the purpose, which is keep yourself warm and hydrated. These are things I've learned this week after our coverage from these experts that we have been talking to.
Joining us now is one such, Jim Dagata, he's president of the Corvallis Mountain Rescue unit in Oregon. Corvallis, home to the Oregon State Beavers. It's about a two-hour drive from Mt. Hood. And your unit, Jim, made it up to Mt. Hood. What is it now, five, six days ago and started this rescue effort, search in earnest on Tuesday.
What goes through the climbing community, what goes through a rescuer's mind when news like this happens, when you find one of the climbers you are looking for and he's found dead? JIM DAGATA, CORVALLIS MOUNTAIN RESCUE (on phone): Well, it is very disappointing that you found them and they are not alive. But on the other hand there is some relief that you have at least found them and that's what the mission is, is to find them. We can't really, you know, have any effect on what the outcome was or is. This is just one of those things that you deal with it and sometimes it can be pretty hard.
MARCIANO: Close-knit community not only rescue teams, but the climbing community in general. I mean, it's a bit of a subculture. I know that most of the rescue teams are volunteers. You are a group that helps one another, puts the hand out. And obviously goes out to make these searches together.
What do you guys talk about when you are together? Day after day, when you are either waiting on weather or you can't find the people you are looking for, what are some of the conversations that the rescue teams have?
DAGATA: Well, if my experience and what we would be talking about if we were on a weather stand by would just be, a lot of what's the information, where are we going to go, what would be a good plan and trying to think that out. And then other times you are just trying not to think about the search and you are getting your gear ready and doing a lot of other things.
If you dwell on the weather and the delays too much, you just put yourself into a bad frame. You just get ready to go. I think I heard someone else before say it is like a horse race and you're just waiting in the gate to get released.
MARCIANO: So it is more of a work focus than it is -- there is no time to sit around and talk about the what ifs. I mean, are guys thinking things and then saying things or whispering, "Oh god, this is only -- we've been only for a week now, we're not going find them, we may not find them until spring." What do you think the optimism level is today as compared to yesterday for the other two climbers?
DAGATA: Well again, that's really hard to say not having been up there this week in person and what the other teams are doing. We do as rescuers, like wow, it's been a long time, we think about that.
But we always hold out hope that that when you've got experienced mountaineers and others that you are looking for, that things will turn out well and even people that aren't all that experienced are possibly prepared and things happen. They may do the right thing at the right time and actually be just fine and we just hope for the best.
MARCIANO: Jim, we're watching now live video of one of the Chinook helicopters coming in after pulling most of the rescue teams off of the higher elevations of the mountain. No doubt when you get the air support in here, it helps. As that air support came in last week but they couldn't get up in the air, that certainly had to be frustrating. And just how important is the air support on a rescue operation like this? DAGATA: Well, it really does depend on the rescue operation. We don't always get air support and we don't usually count on it because it is weather related. And when you are in the mountains, weather comes in and goes out all of the time, which is why there is ground rescue units.
We're here and on the mountain to do our job, even though we're all volunteers we go up in the bad weather and try to reach people and help them out or get them off a mountain or off of a cliff face.
MARCIANO: We are watching...
DAGATA: ... Out of Salem, the national guard, and they're a great group of guys and great pilots. We've had them help us out on hoists for quite a few rescues.
MARCIANO: Jim Dagata on the phone with us, we're watching live pictures of a Chinook helicopter that recently plucked the rescue teams off the mountains who have been searching all day long at the higher elevations on Mt. Hood.
Judging by the pictures as this Chinook lifted those men off the mountain, probably around the 10,500, 11,000 foot level, very high elevations. A dual turbine chopper that is much, much better at handling the higher elevations in the thin air than your run of the mill Blackhawk helicopters, which is sometimes something that they use.
So we're watching live pictures of this. We'll be seeing crew members come out, rescue teams come out. We are told -- or we don't have enough information to speak to the fact of where is the body that they found? What's going to happen with that?
Jim, this cave was found on the northwest side -- or caves on the northwest side of the mountain. What can you tell us about that area of Mt. Hood? Is that the route that they try to swing around to get on the south side so that they can get down to Timberline Lodge? What would they do on the northwest side?
DAGATA: Well I believe that my information is that's where they came in was from the Tilly Jane and the Cooper Spur area upon the Eliot Glacier. And were up on the Eliot head wall, which is the northwest side. They were going to -- my assumption was to summit from there and then come back down the so-called standard route toward Timberline, which is the southwest. So I don't know -- you said you're saying he was found on the northwest or northeast?
MARCIANO: Well I'm just going by information -- it is frustrating because we get conflicting reports. This mountain looks so simple when you look at it on map or from 50 miles away. It is majestic, it's snow capped, it's beautiful.
But you know more than I do, Jim about just how ragged the area is with rock outcroppings and the ice towers as you get closer to the top this time of the year. So given that, I mean, is it easy to get lost out there? It's not like you just get to the top and then you've got either west, south, east or north direction to go down. There are routes that you have to take otherwise your life is on the line, I suppose.
DAGATA: Yes. There are routes that are established that you want to be able to come down and stick to, otherwise you will end up getting cliffed out and other things.
You know, from what I can see on the reports right now and look looking at the maps and my knowledge of it, which is not as great as some of the other folks that I know as climbers on Mt. Hood, you know there is -- there's a lot of ice and snow, a lot of danger up there as far as mountains.
Yes, it looks real simple and real straightforward, but when you are up there, there is a lot of places you just don't want to step. You need to be careful and know your stuff.
MARCIANO: Jim, do you know where these choppers are landing in and out of? Is that the Hood River airports or it is across the river?
DAGATA: I do not know, I have no knowledge on that.
MARCIANO: Safe to say it is far enough from the mountain to where there is no snow, so it is close to sea level. Jim, we're going to let you know. We appreciate your insight. Sad news in the past hour, one of the climbers being found dead on the mountain. Still two left. Jim Dagata, president of Corvallis Mountain Rescue helping us out. Thanks, Jim.
DAGATA: Thank you.
LIN: Rob, we want to share the moment about 45 minutes ago the Oregon National Guard spoke with reporters to make the news official that they found the body of one of the climbers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT. MIKE BRAIBISH, OREGON NATIONAL GUARD: We got late in the day was 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.
The searchers are putting their heart and soul into this. We still keep that common focus that we all have. There's a common focus. We continue to search. We continue to look. We remain optimistic. We remain hopeful. We are going to still collect information and we will proceed with this. We continue to proceed with this as a rescue for the two remaining climbers.
(END VIDEO CLIP) LIN: You can hear the determination in Captain Mike Braibish's voice as he talks about the continued search rescue operation to try to find the other two climbers. You are looking at the pictures of the three climbers who attempted Mt. Hood more than a week ago. About 10 days ago. Kelly James and Brian hall and Jerry Cooke, all friends, family of Kelly James got a phone call from him last Sunday. He said he was in trouble. Said he was building snow cave. They were looking in the vicinity of where those cell phone pings came from and that's where they found the two snow caves today about six hours ago.
Our Rick Sanchez, as we were talking about, has done a series of survival stories and what it is like to build a cave and what you need to do to survive in those circumstances. He's on the telephone with us right now. Rick, the news came a short time after that I last spoke to you this afternoon and you had talked about the possibility of hypothermia. We don't know who the climber. We don't know the circumstances of his death. But the experts that we've had on all concur that might be a possibility obviously in these circumstances.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is troubling to try to wrap your arms around something like this, Carol, but when it was first explained to me by many experts, I almost had the same reaction that I think most of us would have. How can it be? How can you want to take off your clothes when you are in freezing temperature but that's actually what happens. You become delusional. You don't know anything better at that point.
That's why they really stress and I don't even think we can begin to overstate how difficult the situation was for these climbers up there. In my experience is I really got a sense and of course just a taste of it. I can certainly not even begin to understand how difficult it would be to be in a situation where you can't get out of it. Remember, I experienced it, yes. I experienced 60, 70-mile-an-hour winds at 12,000 feet and it was biting cold but I had the opportunity to get out. These guys had to hunker down and last it.
It is very, very difficult. The first thing they tell you is to find way to get out of those conditions because you could last only three hours in many cases if you are not properly attired in those conditions. If you don't have proper hydration, you won't last more than three days. If you don't have the ride food, you won't last more than three weeks.
But obviously the first part of it is just shelter. Getting yourself out of these condition and that's where that snow cave comes in and why it is important.
LIN: Right. Not one snow cave but two snow caves. We don't know who built them but the fact that they were so close together ...
SANCHEZ: You are absolutely right, Carol. And that's what is so curious about this. Why the second snow cave? What you want to do is build one snow cave and use the body heat from your partner, your fellow climber next to you. Three climbers is better than two because that's three people who are now creating enough body heat that will create -- that will stay within the snow cave so the last thing you want to do is separate.
You want to stay together if you possibly can. That's one of the mysteries in this is why James stayed as he told his family member on the cell phone earlier in the week and the other two decided to go somewhere else. There has been talk of injuries. Obviously no one has been able to confirm this at this point.
That's one of the unanswered questions. But that's a very important part. But the key element in all of this is the first thing you need to do is provide shelter for yourself so you are out of those conditions and then once you are inside that snow cave and you are relatively comfortable or at least in a position where you can perhaps stay alive until somebody comes to save you, you have to start melting snow with your little portable stove that you are able to use.
You melt enough snow and if one guy can take a nap, the other stays awake. You drink water. You rest again. You drink a little water and you rest again and you just hold on.
And experienced mountaineers, which is what this is, whether you are climbing or whether you are hiking as Rob was alluding to earlier, they know this. And they know what the pattern is. The know -- it is universal information to them. And many of them have actually done this. They know what it is like to be in a snow cave for two or three days and last a bad storm.
I mean, in this case we're talking about a pretty extreme situation. They were in there for more than a week. That is an awful long time. We don't know if they still had all their equipment with them. We don't know what has been found in this second cave and obviously that's going to be a very important part of this story.
LIN: Right. And the mystery. Why two caves, why a cave -- the first cave that we know about, why the sleeping pad or sleeping bag was left inside and the ice picks and the rope. No shovel.
One of the mountaineers we spoke with said, look, you need the shovel. That's your key element of survival at that point because that is what's going to dig you a snow cave which is no easy job.
And so we don't know which cave came first. If there was only one climber involved or whether the two or at least one of them was able to make it back. There's a mystery on that mountain top. And of course, the question, where the other two climbers may be.
SANCHEZ: That's a very good question at this point. The only -- you talk about a second cave. There are sometimes, and I think one of the experts you were talking to a little while ago alluded to this as well, that there is a possibility because you have shifting snow and you have accumulating snow. You have snow banks forming which most of us who have lived in the north are familiar with and you also have the possibility of an avalanche-type situation that you might need to move your snow cave from one location to another. That can happen. And those are decisions that are made obviously on the fly when you are experiencing it yourself. Again, it's one of those things that none of us know. But they may have made that decision. So it is one good explainer that we can all hope for that if there is a second, there's a possibility that there may be a third and if there's a possibility of a third maybe the other two guys are there. They may not be able to get out. They may not be able to, you know, sound the SOS alarms for people to hear them but at the same time they may be too weak.
And that's why tomorrow those rescuers need to get back up there and confirm many of the things that most of us are hoping for.
LIN: Right. There is going to be a meeting tonight where they are going to be talking about what they call data points. Obviously evidence and patterns of footprints and their best -- ultimately it will be the best guesstimation where these two climbers may be.
And Rob, can you imagine the families who know that one of the climbers is dead. They have not been able to identify the climber. So these families have no idea which of these three men perished and where the other two are. It has to be agony for those families.
MARCIANO: No doubt about that as if it hasn't been bad enough for them over the past week just all of the different scenarios.
If you are a family member and you lay down to go to sleep at night and you think about your loved one on the hill and what they're going through especially with the storm that came through Thursday night. A hundred thirty-mile-an-hour plus winds and we're not even family. We don't know even know these guys, Carol.
And everybody in the news community, our hearts sunk when we heard the news an hour ago. We're all in this together. To be a family member and get this news today has got to be tough.
Some of the questions that we ask, we may never know. You know, why did they do this, why did they build a second cave or move to this part of the mountain as opposed to that part of the mountain? And these are questions that we may never know.
LIN: We may never know. You are absolutely right. And these are three experienced climbers. You know and the families have come out time and time again to say how much faith they have in these men that they will know to do the right thing. But we can't know the circumstances so close to the summit and you talk about avalanches and you talk about the winds. Relatively calm today.
MARCIANO: Yeah. That helps. That helps obviously visibility. Gets the choppers in there when you are on the ground you don't have snow blowing in your face. So it's really, weather wise it couldn't be a better situation and I tell you what, Mt. Hood does not see days like this very often. Jacqui Jeras can ...
SANCHEZ: I am. Maybe we can talk a little bit about ...
MARCIANO: Rick, go ahead. All right. Rick, let's go to Jacqui Jeras who is in the CNN weather center who can comment on what is happening weather-wise up there on the mountain. Have you checked the obs at all at the higher elevations, Jacqui as to what the temperature is? I suppose that's the big weather story. If there is any obstacle that they are up against, it is the temperatures that could very well be below freezing where they are looking.
JERAS: Absolutely. They have been below freezing all day. They think the are going to be below zero tonight. The best observations that I can get right now Rob is at 6,600 feet and of course these guys are being found and were searching up at 11,000 feet at this time. So we have to interpolate the temperature a little bit to bring out some of that meteorology that we learned back in the day and I am guessing that the temperature is somewhere around 3 degrees right now at 11,000 feet.
And of course you can see the sun is beginning to set. I believe we have already passed official sunset time there which is 4:28 p.m. And so as the sun continues to go down, the temperature is going to will drop. We have got the clear skies tonight. Perfect conditions for a lot more cooling to take place tonight. And we think maybe down as low as into the teens below zero. So that's very extreme in terms of the temperature, but the sun will be back up tomorrow. We are expecting to see plenty more sunshine for the next two days we think and it will probably be Wednesday before our next system begins to roll in and start to bring in some of the clouds and start to bring in some of that rain at the lower elevations and the snow into the higher elevations.
We think that will happen probably on Wednesday night. So the best news we can tell you is that things are relatively clear now. Should be staying that way for at least two days so we have got a very significant period of time.
And Rob, as you mentioned, you know, the weather pattern this time of year we usually have that march of storms that comes on in so we have a very nice break. We have got high pressure controlling the area. It's kind of a blocking pattern as we call it so the storms all go up into Canada. They go up and over the Pacific Northwest, keeping things clear and keeping things dry.
But we have got a storm system developing in the Gulf of Alaska right now. This one not looking nearly as potent as the last one. The last one we had that kind of perpendicular fly where it kind of just came in and plowed into the coast. This time coming in at more of an angle. So it will not have quite the fierce winds or we don't think the amounts of accumulation of snowfall that the last one did.
We had one to three feet of snowfall with this latest storm depending on where you were on the mountain. That's a lot of snow to come in a very short period of time. And that in and of itself creates another problem that we have been concerned about and that's the threat of avalanches. And above 6,000 feet there's a moderate to high risk of avalanches and most of which are caused by humans. It's a human trigger. Every time we have a rescue crew out there, any person that sets foot on that snow could be putting themselves at risk so these guys really have a very dangerous job ahead of them.
MARCIANO: That's for sure. And not only humans but some of the pitches on that mountain, Jacqui, are 50 to 60 degrees. And just gravity will pull down one, two, three feet of snow. So they have that to deal with as well. Just the sheer amount of snow that fell this past week.
But now you can comment on this. With cold air, that snow settling a bit and maybe drying out. That could potentially be good news.
JERAS: Yeah, should be doing that over the next couple days. We don't have a lot of moisture in the air. We could possibly see a little bit of melting going on. Believe it or not temperatures are going to be rising up over the next couple days. Could get lucky and possibly see temperatures above the freezing mark. So that's better conditions there. But when you do get into that above freezing mark, you start to get more unstable conditions. You get the freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw so you might have layer of ice and you might have a layer of snow and plus we have the glacier issues as well as the steep terrain. So all of those things come together could cause their own problems.
MARCIANO: All right. Jacqui Jeras, thanks very much. Dan Simon has been reporting from the bottom of the mountain all week long. He joins us now with the latest. Dan, is there anything new you can share with us?
SIMON: Rob, well, we were just told there won't be any more ground or air operations on the mountain this evening. They are going to come back and re-evaluate in terms of how to handle tomorrow. We're told that the recovery of the body will take place some time tomorrow. They haven't quite figured out how best to do that.
They stress that as far as the other two climbers, they are still in search and rescued mode. They are not in recovery mode as far as the other two climbers but in terms of the one still unidentified climber, the one fatality, the recovery will take place some time tomorrow. We still don't have an identification. As a matter of fact, they told me they are still not sure who he is. They still need to confirm his identification. The families have been notified of the victim, of the fatality and, again, waiting to find out the identity of that climber. Rob?
MARCIANO: I'm sorry, Dan, you kind of broke up a little bit there. When you mentioned that they not only they know the identity, are you saying rescue crews that are on the mountain, nobody knows who the fatality is?
SIMON: Well, it is a good question. We are told that down here the ground personnel down here, they're not aware of the identity. Those who actually went up on the mountain and discovered the body, one would think that they know. We were hearing some scanner traffic that they were supposed to grab some form of identification and that apparently this climber had on his person. So somebody knows, it is just the information hasn't gotten down to the folks here on the ground. And it has apparently not gotten to the families either.
MARCIANO: Do they plan on informing the families tonight? Is that on the agenda?
SIMON: I think once they do get positive identification, they will alert the families this evening. In terms of where the families are huddled, we're told that they are at a local motel. That's where they have been throughout this entire ordeal and, again, they will find out tonight. Rob?
MARCIANO: Dan Simon for us at Mt. Hood. Been reporting all week. Thanks, Dan. And see what else you can find out for us. We'll be going back to you throughout the night for sure. You know, Jerry Kelly, the brother, has just been a rock this whole time. With the media and speaking on behalf of all of the families. And it is just weird not to see his face on TV to kind of share with us what the families are going through. Obviously it is not good. And they have been so positive here the last several days. I kind of want to see him. I kind of feel like he's been our comforting soul of optimism. And it is tough not to have him with us.
LIN: What can they say except to try to prepare themselves for any possibility at this point. Everybody has been so focused on survival and stories of survival and the experience of these three men and the good news that they didn't find any gear cast off earlier in their journey and they may have been fully packed for any possibility and these families have been so brave.
You know and really said they believe in their prayers and they believe in the fact that these men have the ability to survive and to not know, for all of them to be together in a hotel and not know who has lost their loved one and the fact that they are not sending up the Chinook helicopters with the infrared tonight, the heat seeking device, that rescuers have to regroup tomorrow to see what their plan is. It has got to be tough. Because I think it seems that this rescue operation is taking a turn today. And we don't know exactly what is going to be happening tomorrow even when they are going to recovery that body.
MARCIANO: That's true. I had a good college friend of mine who was an outdoorsy type like these three gentlemen. An independent soul, an adventurer. He lost his life ice climbing in the Andes. And I remember spending a lot of time with his brother after the fact and his brother was a remarkable inspiration as well as far as optimism and what he said to me which struck me was that basically he said he died doing what he loved to do and if there is any comfort that families and America can grasp onto is that these guys didn't go up on the north side of Mt. Hood in the middle of winter just for kicks or just to prove their manliness. They loved to do that.
You have to love climbing and love the outdoors to go out on that mountain, 50 to 60-degree pitches with all that gear knowing you will get blasted with winds of 40, 50 miles an hour on a good day with an average storm that goes through that mountain. Fifty mile an hour winds, no problem with wind chills well below zero.
So in order to put yourself and body through that, it is a passion, it is a love and I'm sure these guys if asked if they would do it again they probably would say, yeah, I would go right back up the mountain.
LIN: My show team was talking about that tonight. Usually on Sunday nights we ask people in the 10:00 hour their thoughts on a question. And one of the things that we were talking about is why do you think people do it? What drives them to go to an icy summit and that's their true test of survival. I think every time those guys came down off a mountain they patted themselves on the back and they felt amazing.
MARCIANO: There is nothing like getting to the top of any, be it 5,000 feet or 10,000 feet when you get to the top of that mountain and you look out at God's country and the sense of accomplishment that you just handled climbing that hill even if it is just a little peak in a day, I think that's probably why they do it. Why these guys do it in the middle of winter and with all the obstacles, it's a different breed.
LIN: It's almost like a challenge they couldn't resist. And it just so happens we have Randy Knapp who actually survived 17 days on Mt. Hood. Randy is on the telephone with us right now. Randy, this happened back in 1976. And we have been retelling your story anecdotally but it is possible that these two climbers may still be alive.
RANDY KNAPP, MOUINTAIN CLIMBER (on phone): That's the only way I can operate. You know, until we know different, my heart will only accept the possibility that they are still finding their way down the mountain.
LIN: How did you survive?
KNAPP: You know, when we were in the situation, we didn't experience life threatening conditions. We were cold. We were shivering. But to us, we were 18 and invincible and we had no idea of the risk that we were in.
LIN: Tell us what happened again.
KNAPP: Well, we started out for basically spending four days up on the mountain, maybe taking a couple routes up to the summit and just to spend Christmas vacation climbing like we loved.
And it was on the third day that the weather closed in on us and we entered a whiteout it was snowing heavily. The wind was blowing probably 40 miles an hour, 50 miles an hour, and we knew we couldn't climb anymore so we tried to descend but that's when we got lost and we just had to dig a snow cave because our visibility was absolutely zero.
LIN: And you were in that snow cave for all of the 17 days?
KNAPP: Actually, for 13 or 14 days. We were actually climbing for the first three or four days and then that's when the snow storm came in and so we were in our final snow cave 13 days.
LIN: So eight, 10 days into that experience, where were you mentally and physically in this?
KNAPP: On our tenth day on the mountain, we heard helicopter blades searching the mountain over us. We couldn't see the helicopter ever. But that was really the first realization that there were searchers out looking for us. And that there were people risking their lives to save us. That's when maybe the gravity of the situation began to come on us but ...
LIN: Hope goes a long way, doesn't it, Randy, in a situation like that?
KNAPP: It does. We just trusted that God knew where we were. We trusted that he still reigns and he still rules in the universe and that when the time was right, he would get us out.
LIN: Nobody can understand ever the loss that one of these families has already sustained. They don't even know which of the families this climber belongs to. They haven't been able to identify him. Though we hear radio chatter. They indicating that there was some identification on that climber's body but is it fundamentally the difference from your experience and theirs perhaps is that you set out to camp and live on the mountain? You brought those supplies. You had what you needed to melt snow and make water and you had food with you. These guys were planning on going out on virtually what was supposed to be a day hike.
KNAPP: You know, we did have food with us. Enough food to last us over a week. You know, I can't possibly speculate and I'm just -- I'm overwhelmed by the question that serve asking for thousands of years and that is why a good man dies? We can't possibly comprehend it.
The only thing that keeps me sane, that keeps me from going crazy is my trust that when Jesus said when you die though you die you will live again. I hang onto that. And this gentleman that has died on the mountain. He is going to live again and it doesn't take the pain away but it's the only thing we can hold onto.
LIN: So many people have talked about their faith in extreme circumstances and that also does go a long way faith and hope and we can only hope that the Oregon National Guard can provide that to these families but they are saying that they are not sending up the Chinook helicopters with infrared heat seeking devices tonight. Randy, it sounds like they are already beginning to give up hope, the possibility that these two other hikers may still be alive.
KNAPP: You know, they are obviously up there right on the mountain. I was around the mountain all day and didn't hear any news. They know what's going on. But I tell you what, until I know for certain, I'm holding out hope for these two other guys. The snippets of news that I got today gives me hope that they are down the south side of the mountain someplace. And I'm hanging onto that for dear life.
LIN: So, Randy, the day that the rescue happened, how did it go down for you? What happened?
KNAPP: It was January 16 and the night before we actually saw that the weather had cleared but it was so dark and our flashlight batteries were dead so we couldn't hike out that night. So the next morning we woke up before dawn and got everything packed and when the first little traces of light began to appear over the horizon, we started hiking up the mountain and there was a group of rescuers that were about 1,000 feet up from us and they saw us and the snow cap that had taken them up and they radioed in and they came over and picked us up and gave us a ride down to Timberland Lodge.
LIN: What was the first thing you said to your rescuers?
KNAPP: You know, I don't remember what we said. I just remember feeling grateful that they had -- you know, the gravity of the situation began to hit us and I was just grateful that there are good people out there that when other people get in danger, they are there to help.
LIN: Randy Knapp, you have described a situation that we all hope pray for for tomorrow these families waiting for word on the other two missing climbers. Randy Knapp, bless you. Have great holiday season. And we will all keep these families in our prayers.
Randy Knapp who survived 17 days on Mt. Hood, 13 of those days in a snow cave with his friends. Had the supplies. Had the hope and the faith that somebody would come.
MARCIANO: Amazing story. One of my weather colleagues back in Portland, avid climber, climbed Mt. Hood several times, when this story started to break and as days went by, I texted him and said have you heard anyone lasting this long? Well, yeah in other areas but never hear of it on Mt. Hood and then the next day the "Oregonian" had a front page article on Randy's story and how they lasted two weeks up on the mountain and 13 days in a snow cave in the dead of winter and managed to survive.
So when that story had the papers, it kind of rippled throughout the Northwest and certainly up at Mt. Hood and thee family members the rescue crew out there looking for hope. They got it that day. And it's a tough pill to swallow now as one of the three climbers has been found dead.
Just to bring you up to speed, that's been the news -- breaking news this past hour. One unidentified climber being found dead on Mt. Hood. Body still remains there. Crews have been pulled off the mountain. The news came about an hour ago. This is words from the Captain Mike Braibish from the Oregon National Guard.
BRAIBISH: From the information we got late in the day was 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 are 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.
BRAIBISH: I don't have those details at this time. All I have for you is that there is one fatality and we'll get more information to you later.
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. Everybody that went up by air, we will get them off. Those that were - that climbed today, they are 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.
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