Mount Hood search evolves to ‘recovery’

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writers

December 23, 2006

The Hood River County Sheriff’s Office has transitioned the search for two climbers missing on Mount Hood into a recovery operation.

“At this time the possibility that these men are alive after two weeks in these conditions is pretty remote. So, we can’t continue to put the lives of searchers in danger,” said Chief Deputy Jerry Brown.

However, he said whenever the weather permits — such as Thursday — planes will be in the air and searchers on the ground. He said the bodies of Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, 36, of New York, and Brian Hall, 37, of Texas, are believed to be on or around Eliot Glacier.

This week an aircraft reported “discoloration in the snow” below the White River Glacier. Ground crews were dispatched from Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort and Timberline Lodge to check out the “anomaly,” which turned out to be a rock.

“We plan on checking out any sighting that we have for the sake of these families,” said Brown.

He believes the search that began on Dec. 11 would have been made much easier if the climbers had rented a personal locator beacon from an area outdoor store.

“Anyone going up the mountain should spend that extra $5 because it might make all the difference in our ability to find them,” said Brown.

He said the relatives of the two men have gone home to wait for further news. The body of the third climber, Texan Kelly James, 48, was found in a snow cave near the summit on Dec. 17. After being airlifted to Hood River, his remains were transported to Portland for an autopsy.

The Office of the State Medical Examiner determined on Wednesday that James died of hypothermia from exposure to extreme cold. And that dehydration may have been contributing factor. Initial reports that he had sustained a broken arm or dislocated shoulder were unfounded.

However, Brown said tracks around the snow cave at the 11,000 foot elevation seem to indicate that some sort of accident occurred, which could have limited James’ mobility. An investigation into his death is continuing in hopes of answering questions about what happened on the mountain.

James, Cooke and Hall left from Cooper Spur on Dec. 7 to scale the north face of Mount Hood. They were traveling “light and fast” and carried minimal supplies in their quest to ascend as quickly as possible and then descend to Timberline.

Three days later James called his family and, in a disoriented conversation, mentioned that he was injured and the other two climbers had gone for help.

Sheriff Joe Wampler believes Hall and Cooke had an accident of some sort and fell from the slippery slope.

He is hopeful that their bodies will be found as soon as possible. However, he acknowledges that extreme avalanche danger might force searchers to wait out the winter.

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