Search stalls for missing Oregon climbers

High winds, snow halt Mount Hood teams

December 14, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. -- Wind gusts of up to 70 mph and blinding snow kept search-and-rescue teams about 4,000 feet below the last known location of three hikers missing near the summit of Oregon's Mount Hood yesterday, officials said.

"Man and machine are at their limits there," said Capt. Christopher Bernard with the Air Force Reserve's 304th Rescue Squadron.

The hazardous conditions kept search teams at about 7,000 feet, Bernard said, while signals from the cell phone of one of the missing men, Kelly James, 48, of Dallas, put his location in an ice cave a few hundred feet below the peak's 11,240-foot summit.

The search teams were fanned out along several routes below 7,000 feet, on the chance that two of the climbers might have descended that far to seek aid for James, who is believed to be either injured or severely disoriented from the climb on Oregon's highest peak.

Bernard, other rescue officials and family members gathered at a rescue staging area also continued to hold out hope that the three experienced climbers, missing since the weekend, were riding out the storms in a cave or some other natural shelter from the elements.

The climbers had a minimal amount of food but could subsist for some time on the water in snow, and they were at least dressed adequately for the sub-zero temperatures that can rake the summit.

With more storms and lashing winds expected for today, it is unclear when a climbing rescue team or a helicopter crew may be able to reach James, assuming he is still in the snow cave.

"It's all about time and weather," said Chris Guertin, a spokesman for the Hood River County sheriff's office.

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