Bad weather thwarts rescue attempts
Climbers' mothers maintain hope
HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- Teams of handpicked mountaineers tried yesterday to take advantage of easing weather conditions atop Mount Hood in the search for three missing climbers, but the fickle and still-treacherous conditions turned them back.
The weather wasn't as bad as it had been during searches in the week since the climbers went missing, but winds reaching 50 miles per hour kicked up snow from recent storms and limited visibility, and cold temperatures hindered climbers.
"It wasn't quite the dream picture we had hoped for today," said Sergeant Sean Collinson of the Clackamas County sheriff's office. "But there is the chance tomorrow will be a better day."
Forty-five mountaineers had scoured the upper elevations of the 11,239-foot mountain. Others rode in Blackhawk helicopters surveying the mountain's north side.
Collinson said a C-130 aircraft equipped with thermal imaging would continue flying around the 11,239-foot mountain during the night, looking to pick up body heat from the missing climbers, who left Dec. 7 on what was to be a two-day trip.
At a news conference with Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler, the mothers of the three missing climbers expressed hope that their sons would be found.
"I know my son's coming down today," Lou Ann Cameron of Bryant, Ark., said of her son, Kelly James. "It's my birthday. He wouldn't miss my birthday."
Wampler said the chances of finding the climbers alive would be improved if they had held onto the "bivvy sack" sleeping bags they said they had taken along. Some climbers stash gear to lighten their load as they head to the summit, then pick it up on the way back down, but he said searchers had not found any gear. "If they have it with them, it greatly increases their chances," Wampler said.
James, 48, called family members last Sunday to report that the party was in trouble and two members were descending for help. He said he was in the shelter of a snow cave.
The two climbers believed to have tried to descend are Brian Hall, 37, and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, 36. James and Hall are from Dallas, and Cooke is from New York.
The last clue to their whereabouts was a signal returned from James's cellphone Tuesday.
James's son, Jason, 25, told the Dallas Morning News that he knew right away that his father was in serious trouble after receiving the call Sunday.
"By the tone of his voice, I could tell something was really wrong," he said.
His father said he was dug into a cave on the northern face of Mount Hood near the summit. Half an orange remained in his food supply, and he was weak, cold, and wet.
"He just said he was exhausted, and that's why he was stuck there," his son said.
The veteran climber told his son he was not injured, but family members believe he was trying to shield them from the gravity of his situation.
Material from the Dallas Morning News was included in this report.