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Snow Cave Located on Mt. Hood; Lost Climbers Nearby?

Aired December 17, 2006 - 17:00   ET


CAPT. CHRIS BERNARD, 304TH AIR FORCE RESCUE SQUADRON: I was just going to say, Fredricka, I'm sorry. But in terms of the target area, I'm asking the captain if he believes that it's on the top of that ridge where we see what appears to be about four people there or just below the screen -- the middle of the screen you see one or two people standing there in the snow.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I believe that actually the ridgeline at the top, that is the site where they are deploying the rescuemen that are coming down into the area. So it is -- that's like a top portion. I think we inserted most of the rescuers at the summit. And they're working their way from the top down to the area.

BERNARD: Go ahead, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, I was going to say, perhaps that press conference that is taking place momentarily just might update us on what Captain Bernard is saying. He is believing that these rescuers are at the target area. And perhaps during that press conference which, Dan, we are just minutes away from it, maybe we will get some more information on it and what they may have or may not have discovered.

SIMON: Right. Exactly. And I imagine that some of your counterparts are there in the command center, getting briefed as we speak.

BERNARD: Yes, I'm busy out here with an interview.

SIMON: That's right. And we're grateful for taking up some of your time.

BERNARD: You are welcome. Thank you.

SIMON: Thank you.

All right. Fredricka, well, just a recap, based upon the information that Captain Bernard gave us, clearly they believe that they're on the way towards this snow cave. Whether in fact they have actually confirmed it, there is a question there. But certainly a lot of evidence pointing to it, the fact that you had the equipment next to it. And also this giant Y right there in the snow which appears to be some sort of distress signal and letting people know that at least one of the climbers is there. And just to review. We know that last Sunday, Kelly James, one of the climbers, telephoned his family saying that he was in a snow cave. Over the past few days they were able to take some data from his cell phone. These pings we have been hearing so much about. They were able to zero in on a location. That location believed to be about 1,000 feet below the top of the summit in an area called Eliot Glacier. As we look at our screen right here, as we look at these aerials, crews are now descending to that area where we hope they'll find something -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, once again, Dan, for those who are just now joining us. We're looking at what is believed to be an area of deployment for many of the rescuers at what you just described, Eliot Glacier there. Just a few hundred feet away from the 11,000-foot summit there at Mt. Hood. And this may be the deployment area, as we heard the captain describe, for many of the rescuers who will then descend, get to what they belief to be a snow cave. Still unclear as to whether it is indeed a snow cave. But there is belief that it might be an area where any one of those missing climbers may have been holed up for a while simply because of the equipment that was left near this location which may be that snow cave.

An ice spike. A coil of rope. And even as you mentioned, Dan, I'm just re-emphasizing this Y which is sort of an emergency marker that climbers will carve out into the snow or the ice. And, Dan, earlier you spook with one of the captains who said it's their belief that this is a fresh Y. Not one that was left by other climbers. We're waiting for a press conference to take place any moment now because -- oh, it sounds like now they're not going to have that press conference.

Well, we're hoping that we would hear a little bit more information based on what Captain Chris Bernard told us, which is it's his belief that these rescuers have reached the target area which would have been that location of this possible snow cave. And we just need an update as to what, if anything, was found there. And it is a slow-going process isn't it, Dan?

SIMON: It is. And just to clear up any confusion there might be. We have been getting some conflicting information. We were told earlier that there was confirmation that they had in fact spotted this snow cave. Now the captain, Captain Bernard, backing off that assumption just a few minutes ago. But clearly all signs point to it. And as you highlighted, Fredricka, that that Y, that distress signal in the snow, obviously a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that this is where they believe at least one of the climbers is.

WHITFIELD: We have learned a lot, haven't we, over the past hour-and-a-half when we got this information to go to air with it from various rescue units and different groups of rescue teams involved here that these rescue climbers are really A-1. They're going into this with all kinds of equipment that will allow them to be in these conditions for up to three days. And that means daylight or nightfall to look for these climbers out there.

They have got special equipment. Everything from snow pickets to ropes to head lamps. And different types of clothing to layer on. Different ways of sleeping. And stoves in which to melt the snow to drink some fresh water, Dan.

SIMON: Well, they are the best of the best. And they know how to do this. There are some paratroopers there from the Air Force who have a real specialty when it comes to being in this environment, dealing with the temperatures and scaling this type of difficult terrain. And so they are very well-prepared for this. But they are also very cautious, you know, given the fact that they didn't try this a couple days ago because the weather was just too severe. But certainly they know what they're doing. And they're well-prepared for the mission.

WHITFIELD: Right. The weather has opened up. It has cooperated for today. They have got clear skies. They have got winds that have been somewhere in the 25-mile per hour mark, which is significantly less than, you know, the kind of 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts that we heard about a few days ago and blowing snow. But still high avalanche danger is something that persists.

And we heard from one president of the -- one of the mountain rescue units there who said these kinds of avalanches are mostly human-triggered. So they're not concerned about the helicopters that are now up in the air and canvassing the mountainside. But any kind of loud noises produced by humans, the many rescue teams that are up there, that could trigger an avalanche. So they know all the kinds of precautions that they need to take in what still seemed to be some really volatile conditions.

SIMON: Fredricka, we are joined here by Sergeant Gerry Tiffany who says he has got some new information -- Sergeant.

DET. SGT. GERRY TIFFANY, HOOD RIVER CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Yes, hi. We just heard that -- actually we had climbers go into the cave. They found a couple of ice picks, a sleeping bag, some rope, and some other equipment. But so far they searched the cave. But we have found nobody. The cave was empty as far as people.

SIMON: So the cave was empty. So you in fact confirmed it was a snow cave. They made their way to it. They saw all of this equipment. They went inside. And nobody was there.

TIFFANY: Yes, that's right. You know, there is other equipment in there, ropes and -- like I said, a sleeping bag and some ice axes -- two ice axes, I believe. That stuff is being gathered up now. And we'll be bringing it down. But we don't have -- and they're continuing to search the area for if there is another cave or whatever. But we -- that's what we have found so far.

SIMON: And let's just be clear here. This is the snow cave where you thought Kelly James was holed up based upon the cell phone data, correct?

TIFFANY: Yes it is. It is pretty close to where the cell phone stuff came from.

SIMON: How would you characterize this? I mean, is this a bit of a setback?

TIFFANY: A little bit. But they're going to press forward, keep searching the area. There could possibly be another cave there we haven't found yet.

SIMON: Well, I mean, because you really felt like you were making some headway. I mean, when you discovered that snow cave and you saw that equipment, you saw that Y. You felt like there was a very good chance you were going to see something when you got there.

TIFFANY: Yes. Everybody was real optimistic. And they still are at some point, because, you know, we are still looking. We know that, you know, somebody was there and then dug a snow cave, and you know, got out of there some way, and went somewhere else. So we'll continue looking.

SIMON: So the question is -- and you just talked about that. The question is, where do we go from here? The fact that it seemed like there was a lot vested on this discovery. I know, you have a lot of resources and a lot of crews up there. But now there is really no sense in terms of where to look, right?

TIFFANY: Well, we are still going to be looking on the mountain. And hopefully this equipment stuff we found and all that stuff, there are going to be more clues in there. And we can follow those clues to keep going to see which direction they went. And we still have the footprints to follow out and then try to see if there is some other location.

SIMON: And again, in terms of what you found in the snow cave, you found some sleeping bags, and what else?.

TIFFANY: One sleeping bag and a couple ice axes and rope.

SIMON: Were there any other clues showing that somebody was there recently?

TIFFANY: That I don't know. They didn't tell me that.

SIMON: And, any form of -- any other forms of communication other than this Y that was carved into the mountain?

TIFFANY: That's all I know. If there is more up there, they haven't communicated that with me yet.

SIMON: OK. Fredricka, he can hear you. So I don't know if you have further questions.

WHITFIELD: Well, yes, Sergeant. You talk about footprints. How significant are these footprints? And, you know, are you able to see just how far these footprints can take you?

TIFFANY: This morning when I was looking at the pictures, the footprints were headed up the hill. And they kind of got onto windswept spot. And then the wind blew the prints away. So they'll be following that out to see where it leads. SIMON: Well, Sergeant, thank you so much. Fredricka, as you just heard, this is a bit of a setback, after all, there is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that perhaps one of the climbers was holed up in the snow cave which we can now say they did find. They went to the snow cave. And inside they found a sleeping bag. And they found an ice ax. And they found some rope, but no sign of any of the climbers.

And in terms of where they go from here, they're going to be up there for a bit. And they're basically just going to search. They're going to look around for more clues and more evidence. But this one significant development that we have been talking about over the last hour unfortunately has come up empty.

WHITFIELD: So, Dan, the sergeant, if he is still with you, mentioned, OK, one, they're going to follow these footprints that they see. But there are clues, plural. Might he elaborate on what some of those other clues are?

TIFFANY: Just, you know, the equipment up there. Like they told me, the two ice axes, the rope and the sleeping bag. And they were going to gather more equipment -- all of the stuff up there -- around there so we can look at it and go from there. So there could be more stuff that just didn't get communicated to me.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And so these rescue teams on foot there, they'll then just follow those footprints and still stay in that particular proximity? I understand you have other searchers on foot in other elevations. But what does this discovery or lack thereof mean for this particular unit?

TIFFANY: They're going to continue searching and keep going. That's a fairly large area there. And it's going to be slow going. And they are going to have to search it pretty good.

SIMON: We had gotten a note saying that at 4:00 everybody was going to leave the mountain. Can you confirm that?

TIFFANY: No, I can't. That will be a decision that will be made by the sheriff and the climbers on the mountain.

SIMON: But we still have a couple of more hours of daylight. And it is your belief that they're going to stay up there until it gets dark.

TIFFANY: I would -- you know, they're going to stay as long as they can. You know and search. And then there will be a decision made for when they are going to pull them down.

SIMON: As we look at this picture here. It looks like on the lower left-hand side of the screen. I'm not sure if you can see that, but is that your belief that that is the snow cave that they investigated?

TIFFANY: It kind of -- it could be. I can't really see it very well. It looks like there is some activity there. But it probably is.

SIMON: And once again, Fredricka, in case folks are just joining us, this seemingly positive development has turned up empty. We thought perhaps that rescuers when they made their way down to that snow cave they were going to find something, that they might find one or more of the climbers. And unfortunately when they got there it was empty. They did see some equipment. But no one was there.

WHITFIELD: Well, just to borrow some of the words of the sergeant there, Gerry Tiffany, a little bit of a setback, but still optimistic as they continue to try to follow some of these clues. You mentioned the -- a couple of ice axes found in what does appear to be now a snow cave, a sleeping bag and rope. But no other indications of the whereabouts of a climber or the three climbers.

They will follow those footsteps though that still seem to be partially uncovered. But then as the sergeant described, as it gets closer to a windswept spot, those tracks are covered up by some of that blown snow. A bit of a setback indeed, Dan, but the search teams continue to look throughout Mt. Hood on several elevations as we heard the officials expressing earlier, and perhaps based on some of the tape pictures that we're seeing and even earlier some live pictures, the choppers are still in the air because they do still have daylight.

Still a couple more of hours of daylight there. And conditions still relatively good, Dan?

All right. It looks like we may have temporarily lost Dan Simon there. So again, if you are just now joining us. It is being described as a little bit of a setback. But still they have reason to be optimistic based on the kind of clues that they located after climbers have met up with the snow cave.

Let's take this live press conference right now outside of Mt. Hood.

QUESTION: ... frustration getting there (OFF-MIKE)

TIFFANY: Yes. I'm sure it's frustrating for everybody, especially the guys up there on the mountain. You know, they were -- you know, I know I was hopeful, and you know, I am disappointed. But we are going to continue searching. Because that snow cave tells us one thing. They knew what to do. And they did it. And that means they can do it again.

QUESTION: Sergeant, is there any timeframe (OFF-MIKE) the fact that the sun is going to be going down here in just a couple of hours, there are already some shadows -- very significant shadows over the side of the mountain there (OFF-MIKE)



TIFFANY: You know, they're probably making a plan for when to take the climbers off the mountain. And I don't know what time that would be. But safety-wise, you know, that's all going to be a factor. So whether somebody stays up there tonight or not, I wouldn't have any idea.


TIFFANY: What it means to me is they hunker down in the snow and then they survived it and for a while and they were helping themselves and hiking out of there, climbing out of there. So that means they could have dug another snow cave some where.


TIFFANY: Nothing is confirmed yet. Only we know is it's in a proximity where the cell phone signal was at.


TIFFANY: You know, I don't know how deep the cave was. They haven't told me that yet.


TIFFANY: I heard what they were talking to about this morning was it was very difficult.




TIFFANY: Yes, that's possible. Yes.


TIFFANY: You know, that I don't know for sure. Because I was just told sleeping bag.

QUESTION: Sergeant, were there footprints to follow from this point?

TIFFANY: There were some in the photos when they took earlier this morning. There were -- like there were some footprint that they were going to follow in a like -- in a cave they were leading up.

QUESTION: Any idea how fresh those might have been?

TIFFANY: No. There is no way of telling.

QUESTION: Sergeant. This is a big deal. You guys have been at this for eight days. We're certainly like the family, hoping there is a safe recovery (OFF-MIKE). Can you describe what is going through your head right now to get this far for the first time and then find nothing?

TIFFANY: Well, we're -- you know, I'm disappointed. Because I was hoping we were going to find something, you know, and get these guys back. And I'm sure there are other people feeling the same way. But we are by no means ready to give up yet. Those clues are just too good to pass up. We're not going to quit.

QUESTION: Does this reenergize it, does this give it new life, this search effort?

TIFFANY: Oh, I'm sure. Yes, because, you know, they know, by probably looking at the cave, you know, the experience. You know, and they did the right thing. So they're -- you know, they could have done it again or -- and we're hoping -- you know, we know that that cell phone and Mr. James was there and the other two, we have still got to keep looking until we find -- know for sure.

QUESTION: Sergeant, how deep (OFF-MIKE) is the cave -- next to the cave, give us a sense...

TIFFANY: That I don't know. That -- like I said, I just got the information handed to me right before I walked in here. And I don't really...


TIFFANY: What is that?


TIFFANY: That I don't know, either.

QUESTION: Have you spoken with the family? Obviously the family has been told before the media was.

TIFFANY: Yes. I was talking to the sheriff just as I was -- right before I was here. And I'm sure -- I know that all the family was in our command center watching this. So, the sheriff was talking to them at the same time I was talking to you.

QUESTION: What was their reaction?

TIFFANY: I don't know.

QUESTION: Can you explain to -- obviously, you have made friends with these people, you guys view them as extended families to try to find their loved ones. Can you explain a sense of their emotions as they have witnessed new highs and now another low?

TIFFANY: Yes. And they have always continued to be positive. They know their capabilities of their family and what they can do on the mountain. And this is just another thing that tells them they survived and they're moving on. They're trying to get themselves out of the predicament they got themselves into. So that is -- you know, I don't think they're going to be that disappointed on what's going on here.

QUESTION: Would you think that if the climbers are there, that they would be able to hear all this activity and let their presence be known?

TIFFANY: You would assume so. But, you know, I don't know. Some people tell us snow caves are pretty soundproof. I have been in a couple and they are pretty soundproof. So that I couldn't tell you.

QUESTION: They have 15 feet of extra rope past that cave, we heard that reported before. So obviously they can keep going. What is the focus? Now that that cave is empty, what are they doing right this second?

TIFFANY: I have just seen the helicopter come in. So I'm not sure what is going on right at this moment, you know, what they are going to reassess and which direction they are actually going to go.

QUESTION: How long does this operation go?

TIFFANY: That I don't know. You know, it is going to be -- everybody involved in talking to the sheriff. And he will make that decision.

QUESTION: How confident are you that was Kelly James' snow cave?

TIFFANY: You know, because of the -- all the clues, you know, the cell phone signal and all that stuff. You know, you have to -- you have to assume that that -- it was Kelly James' snow cave.

QUESTION: We never confirmed that the C-130, though, (OFF-MIKE) last 24 hours, two of them sharing duties, was there any new finding overnight, any sign of any body heat in the course early today when there (OFF-MIKE) opportunity?

TIFFANY: The last time I heard, no, they hadn't been able to determine anything like that.

QUESTION: Can you describe again exactly what you found?

TIFFANY: What was explained to me was they got to the snow cave (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Say that again, please?

TIFFANY: They got to the snow cave. They went in, found some stuff and cleaned out the snow cave. I mean, they dug back, you know, make sure that, you know, they didn't keep going.

OK. And the way it was explained to me, you know, they dug back into the snow cave and made sure -- you know, they made sure the snow cave was -- there was nobody in it. And then they found two ice axes, the sleeping bag or pad. I'm not sure, you know, what that was, and the rope. And I don't know how long the rope is.

QUESTION: The searchers collected those items?

TIFFANY: Yes. Yes, there will be bring them down when they can and so we can take a look at them.

QUESTION: Is there any thought of leaving other supplies in that snow cave in case someone might want to return to it?

TIFFANY: That could be a possibility. You know, that is something that they would do up there. I wouldn't be -- wouldn't know about that.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say (OFF-MIKE) due to the fact that (OFF-MIKE)

TIFFANY: No, because we have got a lot more clues than we started with. You know, we started with a cell phone signal. And it went from there to a snow cave. And so I think we are going to -- you know, we have got to follow the clues, you know?

QUESTION: How do you rejuvenate the search at this point after everyone was so hopeful, especially after finding (OFF-MIKE)

TIFFANY: Well, you have to get to know these climbers. They're not going to give up, I don't think.

QUESTION: Any new evidence to go on now that the cell phone evidence seems to be...

TIFFANY: Just what we have been talking about. You know, the cave and the equipment and stuff that was found.

QUESTION: Doesn't seem to lead you anywhere else?

TIFFANY: Well, somebody dug the cave and somebody had to go somewhere. So, you know, there is something out there. And we are going to keep looking. I'm sure. You know, and that is a decision that will have to be made. I'm sure they're going to -- they're probably talking about it right now.

QUESTION: Any notes inside?

TIFFANY: I don't know.

QUESTION: Is there any indication of which direction they might have gone, any footprints?

TIFFANY: The footprints were thought to be leading up, you know, towards the summit. What is that?


TIFFANY: That I don't know.


TIFFANY: Yes. It was there. Yes. I think they are getting ready to release some of those photos so you guys can actually see them.

QUESTION: Sergeant, 300 feet from the summit is what we have been saying. Is that still accurate, or is it closer to the summit?

TIFFANY: That's what I heard. You know, nobody said anything yet. I mean, OK? All right. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: They will not give up, those are the words of Sergeant Gerry Tiffany of the Hood River Sheriff's Department. Yes, he is disappointed, he says. But the clues are still too good to give up. The clues that they located in this snow cave which he acknowledged was dug by some one, maybe one or these three climbers. They found inside ice axes, a sleeping bag, and a rope. And they believe this is the snow cave where they recall getting and receiving the pings of cell phone activity from climber Kelly James last Sunday.

They were able to zero in on this location today because the weather was a lot more forgiving with clearer skies, the wind, a lot more forgiving and a team of rescue climbers were able to be dropped off via Chinook helicopter where they then descended a few hundred feet below the 11,000 foot summit to get to this snow cave. They made that very arduous trek to that snow cave only to discover no people inside. But instead some equipment left inside: a couple of ice axes, the sleeping bag and the rope.

And now they will follow what they believe still to be some clues. Some footprints leaving that snow cave and heading up to a wind swept spot where then suddenly the footprints kind of disappear because of the blowing snow. However they feel like they do have some clues to follow up on to try to find these missing climbers.

Dan Simon is there in Mt. Hood. And, Dan, certainly you could hear it in his voice. You could see in him. You have been talking to the sergeant for the past hour-and-a-half, almost two now. He's disappointed. But they want to remain optimistic.

SIMON: Well, clearly this was a setback. But these guys are professionals. And all you can do now at this point, Fredricka, is just move forward, figure out what these new clues are, figure out where they lead. See if anything can be made of those footsteps you were just talking about. And try to determine where these climbers may have gone.

But certainly given the fact that so much attention had been placed on this snow cave. Had been placed on these cell phone pings. And that is what led them to this area. Obviously from the family's point of view and from the rescuers' point of view, I don't think devastating is the right word. But it's a setback because so much faith had been placed on this one particular location. And now they just have to -- it is a cliche, but now you just have to move on.

WHITFIELD: One thing the sergeant said, he said, you know, what was encouraging is that the equipment that was left behind, the fact that this snow cave had to be dug by someone. He says, you know, they did hunker down in the snow. And they made their way out of there. They just may have dug another snow cave if all three of them are still together or if there is just one. And that was another reason why the sergeant said there is reason to be hopeful that all of these rescue teams in and around this area just might find some other kind of encouraging clues to lead them to these three men, Kelly James, Brian Hall, Jerry Cooke. SIMON: Well, you have to operate under that assumption. And to some extent you could view this as encouraging. Because Kelly James was the one who was thought to be injured and was in that snow cave. Well, what this suggests is that he was strong enough to get himself out of it and go somewhere else. We don't know if maybe the other two came back to him and they all went somewhere else. But the fact that he is not there may signify that they were able to go somewhere else and seek safety. And clearly rescuers have to operate under that assumption -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Now the sergeant also mentioned that there may be some new images that might be made available soon, perhaps images from any one of the rescue climbers who were able to perhaps take pictures of the snow cave or something. The sergeant was unable to give us any description of the snow cave itself. Is that your understanding what these images would be?

SIMON: Right. We are told that they are going to release some photographs of this area they have been talking about. So I think we will get a glimpse of what this snow cave looks like, the equipment that was inside. And we're told that we'll probably get those images fairly shortly -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. And what's interesting too is, given that the weather gave them this window of opportunity, still there is only a couple hours left of daylight, even though prior to this latest discovery we heard many of the rescue unit teams say that they were prepared to be there all day, all night. Was there an update from the sergeant or anyone else as to whether that is still the plan?

SIMON: The only thing we are being told is that they are going to stay there as long as they can. What that means precisely, we don't know. But we still have a couple of more hours of daylight. And the fact that they finally got to this area would suggest that they don't plan on leaving there until they absolutely have to. I mean, they were pretty darn close to finding something. And so they just have to hope that these additional clues will lead them to a new location and hopefully find these missing men after all of this time.

WHITFIELD: And, Dan, I don't know if you are able to see it on your monitor, but pictures we are looking at right now fairly recent video that we have run for you about, you know, two or three times now just within the past 15 minutes. And it is uncertain whether this image of this Chinook helicopter was -- is that of images taken earlier when those rescue teams were, you know, dropped off at that Eliot Glacier before they were able to make their descent.

Are you clear as to whether that is a new image of that Chinook or if that was from the previous drop-off?

SIMON: Yes. Not really sure about that. But it certainly appears to be that. And what we were told is the way this was going to go down is that helicopter was going to land. And the rescue personnel were going to get off and then climb down to that location. Originally we were led to believe, it was 1,000 feet below the summit. Now we're being told it's about 300 feet below the summit. That is where they found that empty snow cave just a short time ago.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dan. And hold on a moment . Because we have Rick Sanchez on the line with us too.

And, Rick, we know within the past couple of weeks you have gotten kind of a crash course of what it is to survive in rugged, tumultuous conditions, snowy conditions. Because we saw a lot of your taped stuff coming out of Colorado. Right now the conditions are considered to be favorable for the rescuers. Give us an idea of what these conditions -- or surviving in these conditions, what that is like compared to kind of the snowy drifts that we saw that you were enduring in Colorado early in the week? How much of a difference does it make?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And the question here so much, Fred, isn't what it is right now, but what it was prior. Remember, they were out there for approximately seven days in blizzard-like conditions. And by that I mean, situations that are referred to as whiteouts where you can't see literally your hand in front of you sometimes.

So you have to put yourself in a situation where the very first thing you do -- and this is what we really don't know at this point. The real unknown here is, how well were they able to shelter themselves from those conditions? Because that is the first thing you have to do. If you are not able to do that, you can perish within three hours. Think about that. You will only last three hours in those conditions if you are not able to create a shelter for yourself where you are blocking out the ice, the cold, the snow, and that incredible wind that was blowing through there at estimates 60 miles an hour to 100 miles an hour according to the reports that were coming off in the top of Mt. Hood.

So that is the key that we need to know here. Of course, the variables here are, what -- where were they at the time? What exactly did they do? Were they able to make themselves a good snow cave, as you and Dan were just talking about moments ago? How good a snow cave was it?

WHITFIELD: Right. Because we don't know. Because even the sergeant a moment ago, he said he wasn't able to give details as to, you know, how big is this snow cave, only the kind of equipment left in there. So when you were with those experts in Colorado, and they dug some very small snow caves where there was really just enough room for you to just -- well, we are looking at the tape right now. For you to just kind of like dive into.

How warm are we talking here compared to the external elements? I mean, how much warmer, you know, or protective barrier is it to be in the snow cave?

SANCHEZ: Amazingly warmer.


SANCHEZ: Oh, absolutely. Think about it. What you're doing... WHITFIELD: Because it is kind of hard to imagine. You are seeing what looks like an igloo. And you are -- you know, you are right up against the snow all the way around you in kind of like a tube.

SANCHEZ: Well, that is just it. And that's where we come through with supplies. What you are doing is you are creating an igloo, really more like a cocoon. You are stopping the wind from hitting you. You are stopping the snow from hitting you. You are creating a vacuum where you are not allowing any of the outside temperature to get inside.

If you have a candle, you light that candle. You can keep it up to 40 to 45 degrees in there. You could survive for an awfully long time if you have a good snow cave. If you can keep your wits about you psychologically, because it is maddening to be in there for more than a week with absolutely nothing to do and not knowing when the rescuers are going to arrive. And the...

WHITFIELD: So let them let me interject.

SANCHEZ: ... other key...

WHITFIELD: When you say...

SANCHEZ: The other key here is hydration. If you can melt enough snow to keep yourself hydrated -- because remember, if you don't have anything to drink, you will perish within three days. So if you can have something, a portable stove where you can somehow melt enough snow to keep yourself hydrated, that too will be key in the survival process.

WHITFIELD: So then when you say good snow cave, we're talking one where you have a little bit more room to get that stove going. Because the snow caves we saw you getting into, there is no room for that.

SANCHEZ: No. Of course. What I did was...

WHITFIELD: That was kind of an emergency, huh?

SANCHEZ: ... what they called the shelter of last resort. And what we were exemplifying out there, because we didn't need or have the time to do a larger snow cave, ideally they would have shovels, which they do according to all reports, or they did. They would use those shovels to build a snow cave where two or three of them could actually huddle in there together.

It could be four feet high. It could be four to five feet wide. It would really be like a small cave, where they could, you know, even sit up. Possibly or most probably not stand up. But they would be able to kind of move around a little. It would comfortable enough. If they are resigned to the fact that we are just going to wait it out, we are going to sit here. We are going to be patient. We are not going to try and go outside, and wait here and we have the proper equipment, we have a stove to melt some ice, we have got some -- a little bit of food just to get us by. We can sit here and create this vacuum.

The other variable again -- and I know there are a lot of them, Fred, is, is the snow cave in the right location? Is it in a place where it is away from avalanche possibilities? Because it does you no good to build a snow cave and then be covered by 10 feet of snow because of avalanche came and covered you. Is it in a place where the snow won't continue to accumulate? I mean, these are all things that need to be considered. And I'm sure that the rescuers are considering them all as they look for them now. But if they did all of those things properly and if they had all the proper equipment, yes. There is a possibility that they may be found because all of the experts I talk to said, it's possible to be able to shelter yourself out there with that equipment and with those conditions.

WHITFIELD: And there is a lot of optimism surrounding the search for these guys. Because we have heard from a number of officials all week who said, they seem to have all of the right equipment. They did all the right things. In fact, they even exceeded that. They did things in terms of leaving notes in their car and leaving notes at a ranger station where a lot of climbers, even experienced ones, kind of bypass that exercise. And these guys really did try to leave a lot of cookie crumbs, if you will, about their whereabouts, their plan, et cetera.

And it almost seems like that is in part why these searchers are so optimistic. Still even because of this setback today, they are still very optimistic that they are going to be able to chase down the clues which lead them to any one or all three of these climbers.

SANCHEZ: I think you are right. And I think they have every reason to believe that they may been in a location where they have been able to hunker down. Of course, all of the experts that I had talked to reviewing the information that we had presented to them earlier in the week, told me the one thing they were concerned about was the initial report.

And I don't know if Dan Simon could possibly shed some light on this. The initial report that they had separated. The key here is -- and literally physically you want to stay together. And one of the reasons you want to stay together is your own body heat. What you do in the situation is, if there are three people -- three bodies create more heat than two bodies, creates more heat than one body.

You want to stay together in one area. Huddle together, literally, rub almost skin to skin so that you are warm enough so that person A's body warmth helps B helps C. That's what you want to do. The initial report that came out that said James had built a snow cave and that the other two gentlemen had perhaps gone searching for help or something was disheartening to all the experts that I had talked to. They said that perhaps that was something that would lead them to believe that while James may be OK, it was going to be a very serious situation for the other two. That's what the experts told me given the information we had at the time. We don't know if things changed or if in fact we have got any information that they originally stayed together up there about -- at the altitude they originally had. WHITFIELD: Well, it is interesting to take note. Because you have talked to a lot of different experts, you know, who are dealing with very similar terrain even though it may have been in a different state. But all of them I am sure have been able to kind of express exactly what these rescue teams might be up against as well. You know, trying to chase down all the clues, being respectful of the environment, and the weather conditions and all the limitations that come with it, yet at the same time protect themselves because it is a dangerous mission.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And there is universal -- I mean, the experts that I have been talking to are, you know, mountaineers. In fact they're head of the Mountaineering Association for the entire United States. And there is a universal code, a language that these people speak that the rest of us for the most part don't understand unless we endeavor to get in there and really try and get it, as I was mandated to do when I went out there and spent a couple of weeks learning with them.

But there are things that they know. And you know, experienced climbers like these guys seem to be, would know exactly what to do in these situations. But even knowing what to do, Fred, there are outside circumstances that can result where the winds shift, where snows accumulate that make you have to move your snow cave, for example, from one place to another.

Avalanches can form. You have to know the density of the snow for example to know if there is a possibility that you can have a sudden movement of the snow in almost like a pack formation. Or if the slope, for example, is more than 50 degrees or less than 35 degrees, then you have to try and worry about -- you know, about whether or not you are going to have that avalanche situation.

So these are all things that to us sound like -- you know, like minutiae, but to them, it's a science. They know...

WHITFIELD: Yes. Very important details.

SANCHEZ: ... what they're doing. They know where they're supposed to be. And if they did all of those things, there is still a good possibility, so say the experts that I talked to, that they will be able to survive and will be found. But obviously, and you know, we can't -- you know, we can't sugarcoat this, the odds are definitely against them because of the time that has already elapsed.

WHITFIELD: We all want to remain optimistic. That is for sure. Rick, hold on a moment, because we want to go back to Dan Simon who is there near Mt. Hood with an update -- Dan.

SIMON: Well, Fredricka, I have some additional information in terms of what was found in that snow cave. This comes from CNN producer Stan Wilson (ph) who heard this on the scanner: two ice axes, some additional ice tools, one pad. We were told in the briefing that perhaps there was a sleeping bag in there. We are not hearing that. We're hearing that rather there was a sleeping pad in there, some anchor straps and some additional equipment when it comes to ropes. We're also told that the crews who are there, when they got to the snow cave they went to the adjacent area and dug, dug all the way until they got to rock. And what they told them is that there was no additional snow cave in that area. And on the radio, Stan says he heard somebody say that it's pretty convincing. In other words, it's pretty convincing that no one was there.

So again, the question is, where do we go from here? Certainly a setback. But as you heard crews say, perhaps they have some other clues and some leads that will take them in a different direction. And they're going to stay up there for the next couple of hours and see where it goes -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, you know what's complicated about this, Dan, I mean, a lot of things, but particularly they were able to zero in on this location to uncover the snow cave because of the cell phone ping from Kelly James a week ago. That was one indicator to point them in a direction. Now it doesn't seem like there are any indicators to point them in any direction on a huge mountainside.

SIMON: And that's what's really unfortunate here. You know, so much had been made of this one location. And now I asked at the news conference, are you basically starting at scratch? The answer was no. But clearly they don't have a whole lot to go on at this point. Other than see -- you were talking about these footprints. See if they lead anywhere. And it just continue to search. In that area.

But, you know, Rick was talking about was wise for one guy to stay in the snow cave and for the others to leave. You know, just in terms of the chronology here, Kelly James, when he called Sunday said that they were in some kind of trouble. And the implication was is that he was injured and he couldn't go anywhere. And at that time the weather conditions were severe but not quite what they became.

So the assumption is that those two climbers felt confident enough to go somewhere to try to get some help. And then the weather took a dramatic turn for the worse. And suddenly, they found themselves in this horrible predicament. Rescuers had no idea where the other two guys were. All they knew is that Kelly James was in the snow cave. And they were able to isolate that area based on some cell phone communication.

And for the past several days they had been attempting to zero in on that area, get to that snow cave, that was the mission. They accomplished that mission today. And when they went in there, there was nothing other than this equipment. And so now we're starting at ground zero.

WHITFIELD: So, Dan, just based on conversations you have had with folks there, if not for a cell phone, if not for that Y marker that apparently rescuers noticed and believed that any one of these climbers may have left to say yes we are here, what are the other markers that a climber could and would leave that any of these rescuers would look out for?

SIMON: You know, that is a great question. And I really can't answer it. All we have been told, everything led them to this to this snow cave. And so where they go from here is the real mystery. And I'm sure the crews are asking themselves that very same question tonight, Fredricka, because the assumption was is that they would find something there. And now they haven't.

WHITFIELD: OK, Dan. Hold on for a moment while that chopper is flying nearby. I want to go back to Rick Sanchez who got a chance to meet with a lot of mountaineers this week -- the past couple of weeks in fact.

And you know, Rick, I will pose that question to you. You know, what are some of the markers -- aside from this Y, aside from a cell phone ping, and maybe even aside from a wand which, when I spoke with a very experienced climber earlier, who is former president and CEO of REI, and he has climbed everything you can think of. He talked about wands that sometimes climbers will leave to let anyone know where they have been. What are some of the other markers that perhaps these rescue teams will be looking for?

SANCHEZ: Every single one of the experts that I talked to when I was out in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado told me that what experienced mountaineers will do if they're in an area around trees or a tree line, obviously we are not talking about a tree line situation here because they're above the timberline, as it's called here. So there are no trees.

So what you find, first of all, trees are going to be the highest points. So if you have to climb a tree a little bit to try and put the brightest object you that have in your possession up on the tree, that's what you do. If you have some kind of fluorescent tape, if you have a shirt any kind, a rag, anything that you can cut up that would get people's attention.

If you are ever stuck in your car in a blizzard don't put stuff on the car, put it on the antenna which is going to be the highest in the car. That way, if the snow continues to accumulate, that will be the highest point it will stick above the snow.

In this situation, they asked them to just find the highest point and again try and put something on a stick, again something bright, the brightest object that you have that would be able to be seen from above from a helicopter. That's what the experts told me that most mountaineers are taught to do.

But again, we go back to that conversation, Fred, that you and I were having moments ago about what happens when the snow accumulates, when the wind starts to blow. It is a whiteout situation that they were in for about four or five days, possibly six. It was hard for them to get around. And whatever they did then could possibly be covered up now. And that's why these rescuers are having such a daunting task of trying to uncover their tracks at this point. It is just very difficult for them.

WHITFIELD: Right. And it doesn't help with the winds that they have had recently. Today, something like 25-mile-per-hour winds. But still, you know, blowing snow covers tracks. And we're talking a glacier here. And like you said above the timber line. So it's tough to leave markers.

SANCHEZ: It's very tough in this situation. And you know, I heard what Dan had reported. And it confirms what we had heard when we were covering the story earlier, was that James had -- and no one knows at this point whether he was hurt or not. And Dan is right. Most people are assuming that perhaps it was something wrong with him or why else would he send the other two down and stay in his snow cave by himself?

Of course, the difficulty with that and what worries a lot of people is that James was possibly the most experienced of the bunch. So you have possibly the most experienced mountaineer staying in one place while the other two try and go for help. It was a smart decision for them to stick together and try and go for help. That's what experts who I talked to told me in Colorado. They said they were following protocol. That is the way you are supposed to do it.

But did they have the experience? And now remember, when you split up like that, you are also divvying up your supplies. So if you only have -- and again, we don't know this. I don't think anyone does. If they only had one stove, who got the stove? Who got equipment to melt the ice? If they only had one shovel, who got the shovel to make another snow cave?

You know, again, these are all elements of the story that we don't know at this point. And if they did have to divvy up that equipment, obviously it is more difficult. The easiest best way to survive is for all three of them to huddle and stick together in one place. Put their effort together. One guy takes a nap. The other two stay awake. While or one stays awake while the other two take a nap. They rest, so hypothermia doesn't set in. That's the perfect ideal scenario. Exactly what their scenario was and why they decided to make that decision right now is unknown.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And there is so much we don't know. Because, while there may have been some indications that they split up. What we also don't know is whether they ever reunited again and whether they did stick together. We don't know a whole lot right now.

What we do know is there is some disappointment from today because while there was some high level of optimism of being able to zone in on this target area where they believed the ping of the cell phone came in what they believed at the time earlier today was a snow cave, upon discovery these climbers -- these rescue climbers were able to descend to this location, find the snow cave, but find no people, instead some equipment.

And so they're disappointed because now what they thought were some clues of the equipment, such as this sleeping bag or sleeping pad, ice axes left in the cave, rope, they saw some footprints. Followed the footprints. Come to find out snow had covered the rest of the footprints. Now they're all starting at ground zero, Rick. They don't know where these guys might be.

And they haven't heard anything about any more cell phone activity. And if they have, they haven't conveyed it publicly to us. But we just heard in that press conference a moment ago that Sergeant Gerry Tiffany of the Hood River Sheriff's Department was expressing being very disappointed but they want not to give up any hope. They will not give up. These search crews will continue as they are at various elevations.

They're not concentrating just on this area, Rick, where the snow cave was. But they have made it very clear that they have fanned out throughout Mt. Hood and they're at several elevations and continuing their search because, you know, these rescue teams have the best of equipment and the best level of expertise in which to carry out this search for these three men, Kelly James, Brian Hall, Jerry Cooke.

SANCHEZ: And anybody who is watching this newscast, who has experienced -- as -- well, as many of us did, I went to school in Minnesota, so I know what a snow bank looks like. And I know how easy it is for a snow bank to form. If you are from any of those Midwestern states you certainly are familiar with snow accumulation.

It doesn't take long in a blizzard situation, and whether it's snow falling from above or even just a ground blizzard where the wind starts whipping up so vehemently that it actually creates a blizzard with the existing snow. And it literally will shift it and pack it up in one location where it wasn't before. And suddenly you could have a 15- to 20-foot wall of snow in an area where before you may have actually had some of the rock outcroppings.

So it's those shifts. It's those sudden movements of the snow that develop when you are talking about winds of 60 or 100 miles an hour, which is what weather reports were indicating was taking place on top of this mountain earlier this week. You can imagine how difficult it would be then to find the tracks that have existed prior to that shift in snow.


SANCHEZ: So, I mean, that's what makes it so terribly difficult for these rescuers at this upon, to try and find clues that, at this point, just may not be there anymore. They may have been there four days ago but they're not there right now.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And they're looking for other snow caves in that area where there is -- those footprints were. They thought, you know what, let's start digging, digging, digging. They dug until they got to rock No cave, no people. So, you know, this is a really tough, tough, tough search for these A-1 expert rescue teams out there.

Dan Simon is in Mt. Hood. You have been talking to various experts all day and over a course of many days. And while they want to remain optimistic, Dan, at the same time it is very easy to see that they're disappointed and it seems like they too may feel like at a loss of where to we go next here?

SIMON: Well, that's right. And let me stress there still is a certain amount of optimism here. But one question I have, and I posed this during the news conference is, if these guys are in a snow cave and we have a very clear day, good conditions, and you have a lot of aircraft flying around, the question is would these guys be able to emerge from wherever they are and make their presence known? Wave their arms, yell, whatever?

And what I was told is that if they are in a snow cave that perhaps they may not be able to hear what is going on around them. But that question still lingers in my mind. That would they have heard anything? And if they were able to respond, would they have the energy and the capability to do so? And we just can't really answer that question.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And that is an amazing notion to ponder. Because you would think, you know, we all have heard helicopters, you know, over and over again. You would think there is no way you can miss the sound. But it was described in great detail how, you know, these caves can be so carved and so protective, you know, against all the elements that it's also protecting this climber if you will against any real sense of sound, and that they may not hear the choppers and know that that means someone is coming to find you.

SIMON: Yes. Well, let me ask Rick Sanchez that, if he is still on the line. Rick, when you were in that snow cave, were you able to hear the elements outside?

WHITFIELD: It looks like we may have lost Rick. Perhaps we will try to re-establish that connection, because that is a great question given that he had a chance to try it on for size, to see what it is, to -- you know, what it was to be in a snow cave during blizzard conditions.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I am here. You got me now?

WHITFIELD: Yes, we got you. So Dan was asking, when you were in the snow cave, you know, did you have any sense of audibility? Could you hear what was going on just outside that cave?

SANCHEZ: No. And I will tell you why. When the wind starts whipping at 60 to 70 miles an hour, you don't hear anything even when you are not in a snow cave. There is something -- I know most of us who have covered hurricanes for example know what it is like. Something happens when the wind is going that fast. And I guess it is our ear drums maybe are just not designed for it, but you just don't hear anything. You can't hear someone talking to you who is right next to you.

I think when you saw my report -- in fact, I watched my report later on. And as I watched myself, I thought I looked foolish because I was screaming. And I said, why was I screaming? And at the time I didn't even know I was screaming, Dan, Fred, because I thought I was talking in a regular volume.

But then I realized it's because I couldn't hear myself. And if you have ever been in a situation where you can't hear yourself, you automatically start making your voice higher. And that's what I was doing because the wind and the snow is being pushed so fast that it makes this incredible howling noise. And it blows through your ears. And then on top of that of course you are trying to cover your ears because you don't want to freeze. So the whole combination is pretty difficult to be able to hear anything even before you get in the snow cave. Of course, it's then compounded when you get in the snow cave because -- now of course you put a shelter around you and it makes it even more difficult to hear.

So yes, from my own experience I would guess that they probably weren't hearing much of what was going on around them. And especially, three, four days ago at maximum when we were at maximum or critical wind speed, which is what -- you know what I recall them saying when it was up to 60 miles an hour where they were. And up to 100 miles an hour at the very top of the mountain.

WHITFIELD: Well, that is a great perspective, Rick. Because, you know, a lot of folks really have no idea what these climbers, A, are up against and -- or what the rescue teams are up against as well.

And, Dan, I know you spoke with a number of officials earlier to talk about logistically how do they coordinate? Because if you have got so many different entities that are up there. And they all have to communicate about what they're finding, not finding. We know one of our producers is listening to the scanners. But how are these teams able to coordinate so that everyone is on the same page?

SIMON: Well, first of all, Rick made a very good distinction there when he was talking about the wind and all of the elements and how it must have been so difficult to hear because of the conditions he was facing at the time. But it's important to point out that today it is very calm. Even in the higher elevations there is not much wind. And it is very clear. So the question is -- and is, given the fact that we have such a beautiful day -- would these guys have the energy and the strength to make their presence known and perhaps, hear something given the fact that the weather is very calm today.

Fredricka, now to answer your question in terms of the resources and the elements, obviously it requires very heavy coordination between all of the different agencies, all of the rescuers, the aircraft, it's a massive effort. And what we were told by Captain Chris Bernard is that they rely on radios and cell phones here on the ground. And they have a command central, so everybody is on the same page. Everybody knows what everyone is doing.

And, and from my point of view, they are really doing an outstanding job in trying to find these three men, given the fact that the weather has been so challenging over the last few days. But all of the resources are in play. And today they really made a monumental effort to get up to this snow cave. Certainly not an easy thing to do. They accomplished it. They investigated their lead and came up empty.

But the great here is, is that these guys are so dedicated, they are not going to give up. They are going to keep going. And they are going to do whatever it takes to bring this event to a close.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dan, thanks so much. Standby, I know we are going to be revisiting our conversation with you.


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