CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine -- A man who was trapped for more than two days on an icy ledge on Washington's Mount Rainier while assisting his injured climbing partner said yesterday he was devastated when he learned that his companion had died.
Scott Richards, 42, described for reporters how he tried to comfort Peter Cooley, 39, while the two Cape Elizabeth residents were stranded in whiteout conditions in a 3-by-6-foot tent on a tiny flat spot at more than 12,000 feet.
"That was my whole focus," Richards said. " `If this were me,' I kept saying to myself, `what would Peter do?' "
Richards said he spent the two days talking to his injured partner, making sure the pair didn't get dehydrated, and shoveling away snow while trying to make sure Cooley made it back safely to his family.
When he learned that his companion did not survive, "I was shattered. It didn't make any sense to me."
Earlier, Richards recalled how Cooley had talked about how much he cared for his family as the two men sat in a tent the night before his fall. Cooley had three children, ages 6 to 11.
On Saturday, Cooley tripped, tumbled down a steep, icy slope, and hit his head on a rock spur. Richards maneuvered the two of them to a tiny flat spot, but for two days, the men were stranded as temperatures dipped below zero.
Richards called for help on his cellphone and heated bottles of water to place in Cooley's sleeping bag. He melted ice and soaked strips of gauze, which he dripped over Cooley's lips to keep him hydrated.
"My priority was getting him off that mountain," Richards said.
Cooley was picked up by a National Guard helicopter Monday but died on the way to the hospital. Richards hiked down to a glacier Tuesday with two rangers and was picked up by a helicopter.
At the news conference at Fort Williams Park, Richards praised the efforts of the rangers who struggled to reach his injured partner.
"I understand that you can't put a lot of men in a bad situation to save one -- it's reality," he said.
Richards said the 30-foot fall was a freak accident, similar to what might happen to someone who was cleaning the gutters on a roof.
"I want people to know that Peter was not a daredevil. He was a smart, strong individual and everything he did was calculated," he said.
When asked whether he would continue his mountaineering, Richards left the door open but said any future climbing would be at a less challenging level.
"Right now I'm sad. I can't think of anything like that," he said.
Immediately after his rescue, Richards was too exhausted and distraught to speak with reporters but had a friend read a statement for him: "Peter was a great guy -- confident, trustworthy and very passionate in everything he does. He waged an incredible battle on the mountain for survival. I will be forever saddened by the loss of my close friend."
Cooley worked as a marketing director for Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook and was well known in Cape Elizabeth.