Authorities: Little Chance Oregon Climbers Are Alive

Heavy snowfall on Oregon's Mount Hood has forced an indefinite halt to the ground search for two climbers, missing since Friday. The search isn't officially over, but rescue personnel have been preparing the climbers' families for the worst. On Saturday, the body of a third member of the climbing party was found.

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Heavy snow on Oregon's Mount Hood has forced an indefinite halt to the search on the ground for two climbers. They have been missing since Friday. The search isn't officially over, but rescuers have been preparing families of the climbers for the worst.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Mount Hood.

MARTIN KASTE: It snowed hard all day yesterday, so hard, people were having trouble even in the constantly ploughed parking lot at Timberline Lodge.

(Soundbite of hydraulics)

Unidentified Man: Thank you.

KASTE: That's at 6,000 feet, another 3,000 feet up and things are a lot worse. The weather on the mountain has been supremely frustrating to search and rescue crews, who have been stuck down here, watching valuable time go by. But they just can't risk going up there. Steve Rollins(ph) is a 10 year veteran of search and rescue operations on Mount Hood. He says the last time rescuers went up on Sunday, the signs of avalanche were already severe.

Mr. STEVE ROLLINS: Specifically, shooting cracks in the snow out in front of them, which shows that energy is stored in the snow pack; and also a whoomping(ph) sound. When we teach avalanche, we say those are two signs of mother nature's screaming at you that you should not be there.

KASTE: On Saturday, they found the body of the third member of the climbing party, 26-year-old Luke Goldberg. He was on a glacier, and with him was a camera that provided some clues about the climbers route. Rescuers theorize that there was an accident and that Goldberg was coming back down for help. The missing climbers, Anthony Vietti and Katti Nolan, are also in their 20s and thought to be reasonably experienced mountaineers. Still, they have been up there in the cold now for five days. Dr. Terri Schmidt is EMS director for Clackamas County.

Dr. TERRI SCHMIDT (EMS director, Clackamas County): Unfortunately in this case time is no longer in our favor. What we know is at about 48 hours, two days, the chances of finding somebody alive after that go down to about one percent.

KASTE: Mount Hood has been deadly before. In December of 2006, three climbers died in similar weather conditions. That convinced some Oregonians that climbers should be required to carry radio beacons. Republican John Lim pushed for that at the state legislature, and now, as a candidate for governor, he is raising it again. He says beacons just makes sense, given that Mount Hood is one of the most popular climbs in America.

Mr. JOHN LIM (Gubernatorial Candidate, Oregon): More than 10,000 people in a year going up the top of the mountain, and then that the weather changes so fast, sometimes we don't expect what's coming up.

KASTE: But Steve Rollins, with the search and rescue effort, bristles at the suggestion that beacons would have made a difference in this case.

Mr. ROLLINS: A beacon would not make a difference in this situation. Nobody in the rescue committee here is saying, gosh, if they just had a beacon, this would be totally different. It is not a matter of beacons.

KASTE: Rollins is with Portland Mountain Rescue, one of the private search and rescue groups that have opposed the idea of mandatory beacons. They believe beacons would give amateurs climbers the confidence to take bigger risks. With beacons, they say, they would be up here doing rescues more often. But none of the rescuers here at Timberline lodge are questioning the wisdom of the missing climbers for going up Mount Hood in December. Depending on the conditions, the mountain can actually be a little safer in the winter because there is less danger of falling rock, and many of these rescuers are also amateur climbers and they understand the mountain's allure.

Mr. ROBERT ABERLY(ph): It's just breathtaking, it's stellar.

KASTE: Robert Aberly is an EMT who has been up to the peaks several times. He says on a clear day you can see the Pacific and other volcanoes like Mount Rainier off in the distance, and then, he says, there's the sense of achievement.

Mr. ABERLY: Oh, my goodness, I mean, when you look at the mount it's huge, but when you get to the top and you look down, it looks small.

KASTE: But right now, as viewed from a parking lot full of idle emergency vehicles, the mountain still looks pretty big.

Martin Kaste, NPR News on Mount Hood.

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