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Mt. Hood climbers fall, then are found

Three who slipped into a crevasse were being rescued Sunday night. Five others are safe.

February 19, 2007|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

Three climbers on Oregon's highest peak fell off a ledge Sunday, but survived and were being rescued, local officials said.

The accident comes two months after a December incident on Mt. Hood in which one climber died and two others went missing and were presumed dead, raising questions about whether winter climbing should be more closely regulated on the 11,239-foot-high mountain.

In Sunday's incident, a Clackamas County sheriff's spokesman said, all eight climbers in a trekking group were following recommended procedures, carrying plenty of food and other supplies, as well as locator units that allowed them to be quickly found once the group reported it had run into trouble at Illumination Saddle, about 8,500 feet up the mountain.

Two of the three who slipped into a crevasse "are suffering some uncomfortable, not life-threatening head injuries," according to an online update posted by sheriff's spokesman Jim Strovink.

"They're cold, but they're OK," said Strovink. "One guy might have a concussion."

Rescue crews were hampered for a few hours by snowfall and "whiteout conditions," but were confident of a safe rescue as conditions improved Sunday, Strovink said.

James Gracibel, a coordinator for private volunteer rescue efforts, said by telephone Sunday night: "It looks like a good ending.... They had a bad turn in this climb, but they were prepared.

"So they fell; they're hurt; but they'll come out of this alive."

Searchers had located the three climbers by tuning in to electronic locater units used by the group.

They were about 150 feet below the ledge, which they slid off. Ropes kept them from falling farther than they did.

After spending a few hours huddled in snow caves, as directed by rescue officials during cellphone calls, the other five climbers were hiking back down the mountain and were brought to safety at a ski lodge shortly after 9 p.m.

More than 30 climbers have died on Mt. Hood in the last 25 years, including seven students and two teachers during a prep-school outing in May 1986.

In December, in an incident that generated worldwide television coverage, three climbers went missing on the mountain.

A few days later, 48-year-old Kelly James of Dallas was found dead in a snow cave.

The bodies of fellow Texan Brian Hall, 37, and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, 36, of New York, have not been found.

They are believed to be buried in snow or perhaps to have dropped into a crevasse, probably to be found when the snow recedes this spring.

The latest drama began shortly before noon Sunday, when one of the climbers called to report the fall, Strovink said.

Names of the climbers were not immediately released.

sam.verhovek@latimes.com

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