Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


Snow Cave Located on Mt. Hood; One Body Found

Aired December 17, 2006 - 20:00   ET


CAPT. MIKE BRAIBISH, OREGON NATIONAL GUARD: We continue to look, we remain optimistic. We remain hopeful. We are going to still collect informaiton and we're going to proceed with this. We continue to proceed with this as a rescue for the two remaining climbers.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's Oregon National Guard Captain Mike Braibish announcing the news an hour that rescue teams found one of the climbers, one of the three climbers up there on Mt. Hood, and he was dead. The body unidentified and remains on the mountain. They're going to recover that tomorrow when they resume the rescue efforts for the other two climbers.

I tell you, Mr. Braibish early this morning, I remember that first press conference he gave, he was just charged up, he was ready to go. He meant business, and was optimistic and was with his nose to the grindstone, and you can see obviously deflated by having to give that news.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Just broke up, broke up this afternoon.

We have a network of local affiliates across the country and our Oregon affiliates are focused on the story obviously as well. We want to dip into the coverage of CNN affiliate KATU right now.


BRAIBISH: One piece of information that we got late in the day is that there was a secondary snow cave that was discovered. The climbers, our climbers, did get inside the snow cave and have confirmed that there is one fatality. We do not have the identity of that individual at this time. We're going to do everything we can to get you more information, but to say anything beyond that at this point would be speculation, and we're not going to go down that road. We'll get more information out to you, but to make it clear, we have determined that there is one fatality at this time.


JOHN CAPELL, KATU-TV CORRESPONDENT: As you can hear, Captain Mike Braibish's voice breaking as he talks about the grim discovery right in the same area where that first snow cave discovered right in that same area where that first snow cave is that they took a look at. It was exactly where that cell phone ping came back earlier in the week as well. Mike Braibish there. His voice later broke completely. He had to stop speaking, his eyed welled up with tears. It's very hard on these rescuers. They become very close to these families as they've worked closely with them, and Captain Mike Braibish obviously been one of the faces of the rescuers out here at the Hood River County Airport as he kept conveying information to these cameras in front of us here, and as they become very close to these families, you can see the strain and you can also see the emotion wrapped up into how they begin to speak about this. He had to pause, wait and gather himself and continue to talk about how the families were dealing with this.

All of the families have been notified. That's why there was some delay of getting the information, confirmation anyway, that the dead climber had indeed been found. The was because the sheriff of this county, Sheriff Joe Wapler (ph) need time to sit with the families and talk to them, let them know at least one climber had been found dead and assure them that they're spending a lot of time tomorrow overnight gathering information, continuing to plan their strategy for the morning and plan to go back up on that mountain in the morning looking for the other two.

They do consider this a very active search still. They have high hopes that they will find the other two alive, and here's why. You take a look at the fact that they were in that snow cave. There were footprints and back out leading up toward the summit. That would indicate that they used the snow cave at least for sometime to survive up there on is mountain. And the way rescuers look at it, since they used it to survive once, they can build another snow cave. They have the experience and the ability to do it again, and that's where they're pinning all of their hopes tonight and of course returning in the morning, and they're going to continue this search with a hopefully better outcome for the other two climbers now spending an 11th night up on the mountain.

Live at Hood River, John Capell, KATU News.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, John, you mentioned that that body was found inside the secondary snow cave and that it's still in the cave. Any idea when they're going to be able to recover the body?

CAPELL: Well, Susan, now because the person was confirmed deceased the primary concern is for the rescuers and their safety. It's not an easy environment to work in. Temperatures at the freezing -- excuse me well below freezing mark at near zero or below. The winds whipping up.

Today they got a break because of the clear weather, and they hope to have that tomorrow. They simply don't want to be on the mountain at night. They'll go back in the daylight when it's safer to be on that mountain and take a recovery team back and recover that body, but of course they want to do that where nobody else gets hurt, and that will be in tandem activity tomorrow with the continuing search for the two other climbers who they very much believe tonight are still alive up there on that mountain. Susan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, John, Anna here. We just want to clarify with you, we do not know at this point who this climber is. If we can bring up a picture of all three climbers, Kelly James and Brian Hall, both of Texas, Jerry Cooke of New York. We do not know whether in fact this was the climber who called his wife several days ago, eight days ago I believe it was and notified her by cell phone that he was in a snow cave near the summit and in pretty bad shape. Have you heard anything along those lines?

CAPELL: No, we don't, Anna, know who that is. Kelly James of course did call his wife last Sunday afternoon and his son actually was able to reach him back on that cell phone. That particular four- minute call was the call that enabled searchers to finally zero in on the area where they found these two snow caves within a couple hundred yards, we understand, of each other, one much more hidden than the other, we understand. They don't know who is actually in that snow cave, and the families actually at this point do not know which of their loved ones is deceased up on that mountain tonight.

That's just got to be gut wrenching night for them. They've become very close in all of this. Earlier today when the Chinook helicopter took off to actually make this discovery they were standing out here in the tarmac, they had their hands in the air, they were waving at the rescuers, they were clapping and cheering, actually, as the Chinook helicopter flew up. They've gone from the highs to the lowest lows on this day. Live in Hood River, John Capell, KATU News.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John, thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we first heard the information about the deceased climber from Nick Winkler, and nick, I understand that you got this information before the press conference. And can you take us back to exactly how you heard about this grim discovery.

NICK WINKLER, KATU-TV CORRESPONDENT: ell, we were standing alongside the Portland Mountain Rescue team here where they're staged here at timberline on Mt. Hood. At that point they were getting radio traffic that a second snow cave had been found. They were getting word that two climbers had been found in that cave, but that was just the initial information, and often times initial information on radio traffic is incorrect, and that's this way it turned out this time.

They went back onto a bus in private away from me and other media folks who were hanging around that area here, and when they came out of the bus, there was tears, there were tears, I should say, in the gentleman's eyes who had the radio from Portland Mountain Rescue, and he did confirm that one of the climbers had been found in that cave.

And we should say at this point most of the rescue climbers who are volunteers that are now coming down the mountain here, they are pretty certain which one of the climbers that is. There are a lot of names floating around out here right now, but clearly no one is going to come out and does not want to be the first person to confirm which of the climbers has been found, but they're telling us there are two people, one of them a Portland mountain rescuer who know who that climber is, who were inside that snow cave at the top of the mountain which you're looking at right now, and those two were put in a bucket basically, pulled up into that Chinook helicopter, and they're being debriefed right now on the Hood River County side, and we're told from our side here at Timberline, that the families do know which one of those climbers have been found in that snow cave dead, and at this point, there are about four to seven Portland Mountain Rescue climbers that are on their way down in cats right now.

They're the last ones left up there, and they're going to leave that body behind, that's one of the main things that had been on their mind. They are leaving that body up there because it's too dangerous and too cold to try to bring it down this evening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, Nick, I know that the safety of the crews out there is paramount obviously, and they are dealing with treacherous conditions, the threat of avalanches, and they need to come down. But are there any search teams up by air or are they still continuing the search?

WINKLER: At this point, it appears that that Chinook helicopter was the last one to pick up the two people who found the second snow cave, put them in the basket, pull them up into the Chinook, and then take them down over on to the Hood River side.

We see no signs. Of course those Black Hawks, they stop flying when it gets dark, but the Chinook is gone right now, and we see no signs of the C-130 right now, but the infrared gear that the C-130 has on it picked up nothing this morning even though it does have some of that higher tech equipment that can sniff out some of the heat that may be produced by a body, but it found nothing this morning, and that's when this equipment is most effective in the morning when everything else is cooled down and you might be able to find a body.

But right now they're getting those rescuers off the mountain as quickly as possible. Several that we talked to had said that they've got to go back to work tomorrow and a couple had even said that if they get the opportunity to ask their bosses for time off of work, they want to be right back up here at the mountain. In fact, moments ago we talked with one of the climbers who was actually the first one down off this mountain.

LIN: All right. We're listening to our CNN affiliate KATU in Portland, Oregon, and from there, Rob, we heard the first confirmation from a local station there that the family has been told which climber.

MARCIANO: Somebody in the rescue team knew the identity and the families have been told.

LIN: Right, there was radio chatter. Earlier we told there was some I.D. card, some identification on the body of that climber. So it seems according to our affiliate KATU that the families have been notified which climber was found dead in that snow cave.

We're getting these pictures just in from the scene that we were talking about earlier when about seven hours ago, eight hours ago, a Chinook helicopter flying over this scene and this is -- appears to be the Y that was dug out in the snow and the rope lines defining the letter y which is supposed to be a rescue symbol that climbers know about to identify their location. MARCIANO: Right, to say that they're here and I suppose help if they're still in that area. These are pictures that were now getting that were only descriptions that we were hearing from officials towards the bottom of the mountain, pictures and descriptions of the Y which is a signal that climbers use, and then these footsteps that were -- that they tracked up the mountain, and I remember the -- I believe it was the captain or the sheriff of Hood River describing how those footsteps got to a certain point, and then disappeared.

LIN: Yeah. The wind and the snow blew over them, they disappeared. There was another set of tracks. This I believe is the set of footprints that they found going up towards the summit. That snow cave was found 300 feet below the summit. And then there was a separate set of tracks that one of the search teams described to us that was below the snow cave and that seemed to indicate a circular pattern as if somebody was disoriented. So two sets of tracks. They didn't know when those tracks were made. They had been iced over, but they just couldn't tell what the bearing conditions were over the last 10 days in that location, but some of those dramatic pictures that the sheriff's department took to share what they first thought was the first big sign of hope that they could find at least one of the climbers.

MARCIANO: Well, it was definitely a clue at least to unfortunately find one of them to be deceased. We've been getting dramatic video in all day long. This is really the first blue sky, good visibility day that rescuers had, and they were hoping to get some -- get it done and to find these climbers. They found one unfortunately dead. Two still out there, and tomorrow good news is that the weather should be similar. So hopefully we'll have better news to report during the daylight hours tomorrow.

LIN: We're going to take a quick break, and we're going to bring you more continuing live coverage of the recovery of this body that may happen tomorrow, one of the climbers in the search, and the hopes for the two other climbers who may still be alive.


LIN: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the climber rescue attempt today which ended with one body being found about -- some feet, probably 300 feet below the summit of Mt. Hood. Two other climbers remain out there. Search and rescue still hoping and optimistic at this point that they may be able to find those two men alive, but the search has been called off for tonight. And they're hoping for better, even better weather conditions, but Rob Marciano, you were saying that taking a look at these blue skies over Mt. Hood, that is an unusual sight on a winter day.

MARCIANO: It is. You'll get one or two of these going after the storms blow through, and that's what they have now. That powerful storm that came through Thursday just really shook up the weather pattern, and they have clear skies, and that's the video that we've been showing all day, and you can see the visibility has just been spectacular. But Jacqui Jeras in the CNN weather center knows all too well that these breaks in the Pacific Northwest of storms usually short lived, and there's another one on the horizon, isn't there?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, that's right. The good news is, though, we've got a decent stretch. Really this is pretty significant. We're talking about two more days we think where weather conditions are going to be pretty tranquil and very favorable for the rescue and recovery efforts that are still ongoing.

The clear skies, though, do create one problem, and that's the clearer the skies at night, the colder the temperatures can be, and really very extreme temperatures up at 11,000 feet. The temperature right now is approximately 0 degrees Fahrenheit and overnight temperatures will be likely dropping down into the teens below zero.

High pressure dominating the northwestern corridor of the Northwest, and driving all the storms up and over the area. So that's great news. We're going to continue to see clear conditions through midday at least on Wednesday before the clouds start to roll in. We've got another storm way up into the Gulf of Alaska that's developing right now just getting organized. It doesn't look nearly as potent as the last one, but of course we don't really want any clouds, we don't want to get any more snow into this area. It looks like that should be arriving by Wednesday evening and continuing into Thursday, probably even lingering into Friday morning.

We'll see strong gusty winds with it and we could see heavy snow at times. But right now we're not anticipating the 1 to 3 feet of snow that we had over the last couple of days. It's a lot of snow in a very short period of time.

We usually have very active weather patterns this time of the year. Our jet stream just drove our last storm right into the coast. The good news is it's coming in at a little bit of a weaker angle. It's not going to be quite the aggressive punch to this system. So the biggest weather concern that we do have over the next couple of days is going to be the extreme cold conditions. We're talking about temperatures on the thermometer, well below zero. That's certainly very extreme. You can't have any kind of exposed skin.

The amount of daylight certainly is low. This is -- we're getting to that time of the year where we have the least amount of daylight. Sunset 4:28 tonight and sun will rise tomorrow about 7:45 so we're looking at maybe eight, eight and a half hours of good daylight tomorrow. They should be able to hopefully make some more significant progress like they did today. They finally got a break in the weather they needed to make some progress and they were able to at least find one person.

We want to show you the temperatures. Even all across the Pac Northwest and the intermountain West are very cold. You can see Yakima at 26. Even in Portland itself is feeling freezing right now. I do have a computer animation that I want to show you of the next storm starting to come in, and over the next 48 hours we're going to an mate this for you and show you as it approaches.

Now we're expecting it to stay up to the north at least through Tuesday, and some of these oranges that you see getting up toward Vancouver Island, that's 30-plus mile per hour winds. We can see some of the 50s and 60s into the north as you head into the mountainous regions. So we'll be watching the storm very closely as it approaches the middle and latter part of the week.

MARCIANO: Jacqui, that's encouraging, that map you showed. We were showing that same animation or same computer model last week as those storms rolled in, and each storm at least got into the oranges, and the last storm we were showing whites which meant plus 60 (ph). And of course that verified with over 100 mile-an-hour winds. That model is not showing any of that wind getting down toward the Oregon area.

JERAS: No, not toward that area and also not quite as strong.

MARCIANO: All right, Jacqui, we'll hold on to that and hopefully that storm doesn't dip down into the south. Jacqui Jeras from the CNN weather center. Thank you, Jacqui.

LIN: Hopefully that will bode well for tomorrow's - hopefully there is a search effort. We want to find out more about the situation on the ground, and our Dan Simon has been standing by on the Hood River County side of Mt. Hood. Dan, you just got an off camera briefing. What did they tell you?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, earlier we were led to believe that the families were going to be told the identity of the deceased climber. Now we're hearing that probably won't happen tonight. There has to be a positive, legal confirmation in terms of the identity of the body.

And we're told that's probably not going to take place tonight. What that comes down to is you're probably going to have three families going to bed tonight not knowing which one of their loved ones died on that mountain. You really have to feel for them. One can only imagine what they're going through at this particular moment. As we mentioned earlier, ground and air operations are over for the night.

Carol, you talked about what's going to happen tomorrow. They're still calling this a search and rescue for those two other climbers. And in terms of retrieving the body tomorrow they're working out that strategy in terms of how best to do that. But we just learned ...

LIN: Dan - I'm sorry, Dan, go ahead.

SIMON: Go ahead.

LIN: Well, Dan, I want to make sure that I follow up on this point. We've earlier -- we took some of our local affiliate coverage in Portland and our local affiliate out there, KATU had a reporter on the scene who said that the families had been told which climber was found on that mountain. But that's erroneous, you are now hearing they want to wait for a legal identification, they need to get the body down and go through that process?

SIMON: Yeah, that report was incorrect, and I just asked the captain about that, and I made it very clear to him that there was this report floating out there, and he said absolutely not, that identity has not been released. They have a pretty good idea, they know who it is, but they have to make sure they go through the proper legal channels to make sure that this is done correctly and by the book.

LIN: Have they characterized it that way to the families, though? Do the families have a good sense that the rescuers do know who it is? Is anybody pressing for more of those details?

SIMON: I don't have the answer for that, Carol.

LIN: I think it just has to be so tough because there was some radio chatter about possibly an I.D. card on the body of that climber, and I just would think if I was one of those families I would just be pressing for every possible detail to put my mind -- give my mind some peace tonight.

SIMON: Well, sure, you would. But the way it was described to me is they have to be very cautious. You don't want to make a mistake when it comes to something like this. And they're doing everything by the book and they told us that as soon as they do get confirmation, obviously the families will be told right away, Carol.

LIN: Dan, why are they not sending up the Chinooks with the infrared tonight, the heat-seeking device?

SIMON: That's a good question. We were told that in terms of what they need to do today, what they wanted to do, they basically accomplished that, and that was finding that one snow cave. And it turns out they found two snow caves.

But in terms of suspending operations tonight, there was going to be a C-130 up in the air, but they decided that given the events of what happened today and where they are with things that they'd rather not do that, really come down here on the ground, focus on what needs to be done tomorrow, Carol.

LIN: All right. Dan Simon, thank you very much, Dan Simon who just got out of a briefing hearing the latest that indeed the families have not been told the identity of the climber who was found in that second snow cave today. That they need to wait for legal confirmation. Presumably that means that they need to recover the body from the mountain side and bring the climber's body down to go through that autopsy process.

We're continuing our live coverage here of the climber's rescue operation out at Ft. Hood (sic), two climbers still missing, and the Oregon National Guard maintains that they're still optimistic that they will be able to find these climbers alive. We'll be right back.


LIN: Welcome back to our continuing live coverage of the rescue operation on Mt. Hood where a body of one of the climbers was found, two other climbers still missing. I'm Carol Lin here at the CNN center.

MARCIANO: And I'm Rob Marciano helping out, weather. I spent a few years in the Portland market and know Mt. Hood well, and this is a mountain that's wonderful to look at and wonderful to play on, but it's a dangerous mountain especially in the wintertime. And this afternoon we're getting news that one of the three climbers were found dead on the mountain. This is how the news came to us about an hour ago. Captain Mike Braibish from the Oregon National Guard.


BRAIBISH: Information that we got late in the day is that there was a secondary snow cave that was discovered. The climbers, our climbers, did get inside the snow cave. And have confirmed that there is one fatality. We do not have the identity of that individual at this time. We're going to do everything we can to get you more information, but to say anything beyond that at this point would be speculation, and we're not going to go down that road.

We'll get more information out to you, but to make it clear, we have determined that there is one fatality at this time.

I don't have those details at this time. What I have for you is that there's one fatality, and we'll get more information to you later.

QUESTION: Has the family been notified?

BRAIBISH: The families are aware of the situation. Thank you, everyone.

All right. Yes. Our plan is to bring everyone off the mountain that we can, everyone that went up by air, we'll get them off, those that were -- that climbed up today, they 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's a common focus. We continue to search. We continue to look. We remain optimistic. We remain hopeful. We're going to still collect information, hand we're going to proceed with this. We continue to proceed with this as a rescue for the two remaining climbers.

LIN: Important to say rescue, because that certainly indicates that they believe these two men, the two remaining climbers, may still be alive.

This picture that came up earlier may seem like a mystery to you, but this was very important to the rescuers today who spotted this from the air. This is a trench in the shape of a Y dug out by one of the climbers, and the black lines are the ropes delineating the shape. The Y being a climber's symbol for rescue, or at least -- you know, this is where I am. Just indicating that the climber -- a climber was there. And this was the first big break in this case. It led them to the first snow cave where they found a sleeping bag and some tools, but not another climber, and then subsequently in that same area they found a second snow cave where the body of one of the climbers was found.

Take you back now to get you up to speed on what's happening around the world today. At least one person was killed in Gaza City that's after a spike in violence between Fattah and Hamas factions. The surge came after the prime minister rejected the president's call for early elections.

And New Yorkers have been putting their names on giant steel columns today. The girders will frame the Freedom Tower, to be built at the site of the World Trade Center. Loved ones, first responders, and average New Yorkers were invited to sign.

And gunmen continue to hold people kidnapped from the Iraqi Red Crescent office earlier today. Six of the 30 men taken hostage were let go; 21 employees and three visitors are still being held.

And a sea of green at Baltimore-Washington International Airport today, beginning early this morning the military men and women stationed in the area began heading home for the holidays. A little ray of good news in today's array of bad news.

Time to take a little bit of a break, and we'll take a bit of a break. And we'll be right back with our continuing coverage of the Mt. Hood climbing accident.



LIN: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the rescue operation to find the missing hikers on Mt. Hood, in Oregon.

I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center. Joining me now on the telephone from Port Townsend, Washington is Jim Whittaker. You recall that he was the first American to climb Mt. Everest. We're going to go to bring that interview to you in just a moment. But right now we're going to go our affiliate coverage, KATU. We're hearing from one of the rescuers who just came down the mountain.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say that any time you prefer to walk off rather than fly off, that's a good day. You've got some energy left.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. We'll let you unpack.

These climbers finishing up. The last ones down the mountain here as they unpack and pick up. They'll be debriefed shortly back at headquarters here, regroup, and figure out what to do about the gentleman in that snow cave, and the two climbers that are unaccounted for -- guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nick, obviously that rescuer short on words when it came to the discovery that was made this afternoon, and understandably so. It's important here, I guess, to point out that a lot of these folks -- I assume that these folks are with Portland Mountain Rescue, they're not there, paid, to do this. They're there and they train year-round and volunteer to conduct these searches, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. They're volunteers, and they have jobs to go back to. And some of the earlier ones, that we talked to, say as soon as they're done getting off the Cats, and picking up their gear, going and being debriefed, a lot of them have a long ride home. And they've got to go back to their regular jobs.

We'll move out of the way so you can get by. Excuse me, sir.

They're going to go back to their regular jobs on Monday and some of them even said that they're going to ask their bosses for time off so they can come back out here, and continue to search for the two climbers that have not yet been found.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, Nick, can you tell us anything else about the plans for tomorrow? What kind of strategy they're going to use for trying to find the other two climbers? Nick, can you hear me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anna, you were breaking up on me right now. I'm play with a couple of my cords here to hear you again. Repeat your question for me, would you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, Nick, I was wondering if you can tell us anything more about the search plans for tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that point, that is going to be in the Hood County sheriff. He is going to make that determination. And they are debriefing, right now, here on the timberline side, on the south side of the mountain. And they're awaiting word right over there from Sheriff Wampler (ph) on what is going to be the next plan of action.

At this point there has been no determination made. I was talking with some sources on the telephone, right before we went on, and they say right now that the gentleman who is up in the cave, who had died, one of those climbers, has not positively been identified, though many of the rescue workers are fairly certain that they know who that is.

But they're trying to determine that right now whether they want to send any one with medical experience up to try to identify, up in the cave. Or whether they're going to try to bring that gentleman down, bring his body down and work on it tomorrow from the Hood Rive County side. But this, basically, back here on the south side is going to not see near as much action. All of the action is going to be on the Hood River County side, they say at this point. But right now the Portland Mountain Rescue Crew, they are awaiting word from the sheriff on the other side of the mountain on how they're going to proceed. They're just not sure yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, of course --


LIN: All right. We're hearing the latest live report there from our CNN affiliate, KATU. That reporter just interviewed some of the rescue climbers that have just landed. Let's listen to his interview with those climbers, and what they had to say about this rescue operation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About what the conditions were like up there -- I know you're just unloading.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today was fairly calm up there. For the first time in a long time we were able to see off the summit, and get to the summit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you're up at the summit, and when you hear news that one of the climbers had been found dead in the second snow cave, how does that hit you, as a rescue?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, climbers tell me there are eternal optimists, I mean, how do you regroup and go forward from here after a long day and a tough day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, no comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me a little bit about when that chopper is up there blowing the snow around, I know that's tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, you know, the chopper is always and interesting operation. I was one of the ones that actually got inserted by the chopper. And I opted to walk off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You decided to walk off, rather than fly. How come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just, I feel like I have more control about what's going to happen if I walk off the mountain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say any time you'd prefer to walk off, rather than fly off that's a good day, you've got some energy left.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. We'll let you unpack.


LIN: That is the latest from, at least one of the members of the rescue teams on the ground, who chose to walk off the mountain rather than board the Chinook helicopter that was picking people up.

Dicey conditions up there, but he did describe a pretty good day, a pretty fair day for the search on the ground. Two other climbers still missing on that mountain. One found dead in a snow cave about three hours ago.

They have yet to confirm the identity of that climber, and were only able to go to the families, and just say, look, we know that one of the climbers has died. We cannot tell you yet which one. A very tough situation for the families tonight.

And someone who certainly knows what it is to brave conditions on a mountain like Mount Hood is Jim Whittaker. He is the first American to climb Mt. Everest back in 1963. He's the former president and CEO of REI, Recreational Equipment Incorporated. And he climbed Mt. Rainier 80 times, even living in snow caves from time to time. He's right now on Port Townsend, Washington.

Jim, good to have you back with us.

First, for people who are just tuning in today, and are just hearing the news that one of the missing climbers was found dead, let's go over some of the circumstances of that. So, 300 feet beneath the summit of Mt. Hood, all right, on the northwest side they spot what appears to be a Y symbol.

A climber having dug out the letter Y and then outlining it in his ropes, so it could clearly be seen from the air. A rescue signal, a signal to let people know that he was there. And a snow cave nearby empty with a sleeping bag and tools. A second snow cave found nearby with a body inside.

The mystery is who is it? Why would there be two snow caves so close together? Can you piece that together for us, and what you may have been thinking over the last couple of hours?

JIM WHITTAKER, FMR. PRES. & CEO, REI: Well, I -- it's hard to say not being on the scene, but the snow caves are good protection. It was very smart of him to identify that location with the climbing ropes. That was a good move. Apparently snowfall covered that as well, but that was smart thinking. And hopefully he expected, I guess, someone to see it and help him out of it.

But these things -- they're difficult. And I really -- I feel so sorry for the families. Usually it's the families that hurt the worst. The climbers, you know, they expect a certain amount of risk. On Everest in '63 the second day on the mountain we lost one of our team in the ice fall, Jake Reinbach (ph) was killed. And he was doing what he would have preferred to do. He was making a great climb. And we lost him.

And so it's difficult. And I sympathize so much with the families because it's hard to think that they might have lost their loved ones.

LIN: And not knowing. I mean, any one of those three families staying at the same motel right now can't know whether their brother, their husband, their son, was the one who was found dead in that snow cave.

It still leaves two other climbers up on that mountain. This is still a rescue operation. Is there any chance at all, Jim, that those two climbers could still be alive when you consider the conditions?

WHITTAKER: You know, I think there is a chance. You never give up hope. And we have found people that have been days and days that they've been trapped and unable to walk, or something, and wrapped up in a bag. And, you know, if there's water, you can melt the snow, even just letting it melt in your mouth, so water and keep -- if you have water, you can stay alive for a long time.

It's a question of the cold, of course, and if you can wrap up somewhat in something that's relatively dry, I think there's really a good chance.

LIN: But a clear, sunny day, Jim, like it was today, a rare day like this on Mt. Hood in the middle of the wintertime. If you were missing, why would you not take the opportunity to come out in clear sight so that these rescuers from the air could spot you?

WHITTAKER: Well, I would say that after this length of time --

LIN: Ten days.

WHITTAKER: You're probably not in the best of shape to crawl out of a hole and to wave, so that you're probably hoping that -- you know, when you're hypothermic you get -- it's like falling asleep. It's a simple way to go, actually. I've been close to it myself. And you just gradually, you know, accept those things and go to sleep. And that's it.

But they're probably -- I hate to say this, but they're probably not a lot of energy left, but there is a chance that they could be alive. The rescuers feel that. I would say that at the first light, the first light in the morning, they're going to be up there looking for the other two. And that's what everybody should do. And they're good climbers. These rescuers know what they're doing. And it's just a natural thing for someone to try and save their companions.

LIN: I interviewed Randy Knapp (ph), one of the Mt. Hood climbers, who was rescued after 17 days living on that mountain back in, what, 1976?


LIN: And now, different circumstance because they planned to overnight on the mountain for something short of a week. So they had food, and they had far more supplies than these guys had, given that they were going up for basically a day hike.


LIN: But he said that his faith really carried him through. Just a firm, confident belief in his God, and the fact that these rescuers were going to be able to find them. The difference is, though, it was when the weather cleared, they had enough strength to get out of their snow cave, and actually start hiking up towards a ridge. All right? And that's where they encountered the rescuers who spotted them.

If these two climbers left don't have the energy, how are they going to be found, especially tonight? They're not sending up the C- 130 with the heat-seeking technology. That's got to concern you.

WHITTAKER: Well, all it takes is about an inch of snow to cover anything, and so there is snowfall up there after these people started to apparently descend, or head out for help. So, you know, it hides everything. A little bit of snow can hide everything.

So the thing -- I think -- you know, and even the heat-seeking machine, if you're fairly cold, and you've got a couple three inches of snow on top of you, I don't know what -- whether they detect that -- machine would detect that or not. I don't know that technology.

Anyway, the best thing that we can say is that the rescuers are going to go out there, they're going to comb that mountain, there's a lot of interest, a lot of support. We've got strong climbers going up there and looking. And I'm sure that if there's any chance at all, they're going to find them.

I've gone up on Rainier and looked for people that were below the middle camp, Camp Muir. They were trapped, three of them trapped by a snowstorm just a few 1,000 feet above Paradise, and not even yet to Camp Muir at 10,000 feet. And they hunkered down and some make it and some don't. And you just hope that in this case that we can find them.

LIN: Jim, it must be -- I don't know, an electric experience to climb up a mountain like Rainier or Mt. Hood, because you look at these conditions and you wonder what drove these men to climb Mt. Hood in the middle of winter?

WHITTAKER: Are you kidding? It's a great experience. Mountain climbing is wonderful. It's exhilarating and it's -- people love it. You gain heights and you test yourself against nature. It's a wonderful experience no matter -- a lot of winter climbs all over -- they winter climb at McKinley. The winter climb Everest, for god sake.

And it's -- mountain climbing, you know, they -- let me give you a quote. Climb the mountains, enjoy their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine into flowers. The winds will bring you their freshness, the storms their energy, and cares will fall off like autumn leaves.

Just remember these people were doing what they wanted to do. They loved it, they loved to be out of doors, they loved to walk through snow, and they love to climb high. So more power to them. Believe me, we need more people like that, that are willing to get out and get a taste of life.

LIN: Jim Whittaker, well put, well put, on this night where we look at these conditions and we hope and pray for these men. We know now that they're living their passion in a way that perhaps many of us can't understand. Jim Whittaker, thank you so much.

WHITTAKER: Thank you.

LIN: We'll be back with more news, other news, as it's been a busy day at the CNN Center.


LIN: Here's what's happening "Now in the News". If a civil war has been brewing between Palestinians, there's more percolation today. Fierce fighting among Fattah and Hamas loyalists has killed at least two people. More on this developing story in less than a minute.

Plenty of mixed reactions to Iraq's vice president, Tariq al- Hashimi, wanting more U.S. troops in Baghdad. President Bush is said to be considering the idea, supported by Senators McCain and Lieberman. But critics, including former Secretary of State Colon Powell and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, say it simply isn't worth it.

And five years after the 9/11 attacks, New Yorkers sign on to the rebuilding effort at ground zero. Today citizens from all walks of life put their names to the girders that will support the soon to be constructed Freedom Tower.

Earlier today sunny skies and warm weather met Washingtonians who attended the lighting of the National Hanukkah Menorah. It's touted as the world's largest. Don't know who that blue figure was there, maybe a candle? The eight-day Jewish holiday began Friday at sundown.

It's hard to imagine what those missing climbers on Mt. Hood, Oregon, are going through tonight. Our Rick Sanchez braved the cold and snow and wind to show us. Here's more now from Loveland Pass, Colorado.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT, BREAKING NEWS (on camera): There are places on Earth where you feel God's fury, but I can't imagine any of them being any worse than this. What we're feeling right now we're about, almost 12,000 feet. This is a Continental Divide.

I've been in enough hurricanes to know what hurricane-force gusts, if not winds, feel like. This is easily at least 60-mile-an- hour gusts that are blowing through here. At times it's difficult to stand up. It's a biting cold. It's hard to see. In fact, it's down right painful.

The question now is, if you were stuck in these conditions, what do you do? How do you survive? (Voice over): We've elicited the help of two renowned mountaineering experts, who teach the first order of business is to build a snow cave. Without it you will not survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would just get in there, into that cave, get on our pack, to insulate ourselves from the snow.

SANCHEZ (on camera): I see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And stay warm huddled close together all night.

SANCHEZ (voice over): Even in a so cave, you could still get slammed by an avalanche, but experienced mountaineers avoid it by taking into account both slope and snow density when figuring out where to camp.

(On camera): You can't see the top of the peak. Look straight up there. In this wind you can't see it, but couldn't that start an avalanche at any time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not tall enough.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now to start an avalanche. If it did slide it has no energy.

(Voice over): But by far, the biggest killer is the weather itself. Within hours of being exposed mountaineers can suffer hypothermia, which causes them to become strangely delusional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you'd eventually become euphoric and think that the snow is really warm and soft, and lay down and go to sleep forever.

SANCHEZ: It is why some victims are found disrobed. They actually believe it's warm in freezing weather. Experts recommend not going into these conditions without a shovel, a backpack, a head lamp, a compact stove to melt water and at least a sleeping bag. Say even with these items, under extreme conditions, you'll still only be able to hold on for so long. Rick Sanchez, CNN, Loveland Pass, Colorado.


LIN: And Rick Sanchez is going to be one of the many guests on "Larry King Live" tonight. Also our Dan Simon, reporting from the base at Mt. Hood, on the latest for the search of the two hopefully surviving climbers.

Larry will also be talking to guests, guests who are friends of the hikers, as well as officials from the sheriff's office. All of this coming up on "Larry King Live" starting at 9:00 Eastern time, in just two minutes, but we're back after a quick break.


LIN: Welcome back to CNN's continuing live coverage of the search for the missing climbers on Mt. Hood. We heard just in the last three hours that one of those climbers was found dead. They have not identified that climber.

But what an eventful day; about six hours ago, all of us had the hope that potentially, the climber, at least one climber might be found alive. There were pictures that the sheriff's office took of the scene where a climber had dug out a rescue symbol, a Y, in the snow, and marked it off with his climbing ropes.

Also, nearby that location a snow cave found, with a sleeping bag, and other tools, but no climber. But within that area, a second snow cave was found, and so was a dead climber. They have yet to identify that climber, but these two caves were found in an area where Kelly James was able to call his family, last Sunday, to say that he was in trouble and that the two other -- his two other friends had gone for help down the mountain.

They are still optimistic, the rescuers, that they will find the two other climbers alive. So, up next, Larry King, with a live edition of "Larry King Live". He's going to be talking with the hikers friends, our Doctor Sanjay Gupta is here to talk about the physical conditions these climbers may be under. And also, live from the scene, of the search.


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