Wed, Dec 13, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Snow forces rescuers down

AP , COOPER SPUR, OREGON

Rescuers get out of a snow cat after returning from the south climbing route of Mount Hood after the search for three missing hikers was suspended because of dangerous conditions on Monday near Timberline Lodge, Oregon.

PHOTO: AP

Rescue teams headed up the flanks of treacherous Mount Hood to search for three climbers reported missing in heavy snow, but were ordered off the mountain when conditions became too dangerous.

Officials described the three men on Monday as experienced but said none had climbed Mount Hood before.

The mother of Kelly James, 48, of Dallas, Texas, told authorities he had called his son on a cellphone on Sunday to say he was stranded in a snow cave just below the summit of the 3,372m peak and his companions had gone for help.

"From the conversation, it left us very concerned for the person's welfare," Hood River County Chief Deputy Jerry Brown said.

Rescuers were unable to re-establish cellphone contact with James, and there was no sign of the other men, identified as Brian Hall, 37, of Dallas, and Jerry Cooke, 36, of New York.

Snow was falling heavily on Monday at a lodge where the three men were supposed to meet friends on Friday or Saturday. Up to 46cm of snow was expected through Tuesday, along with wind gusts of up to 88kph that will reduce visibility and raise the risk of avalanches.

The Oregon Air National Guard said the weather was too dangerous to attempt a helicopter rescue, but a chopper was on standby in case the weather improved.

The seven three-member rescue teams searching for the men encountered wind gusts of 129kph and blowing snow, Deputy Marc Smith said. They did not get higher than 2,550m.

The teams planned to try again today, Smith said.

About 10,000 people a year start for the summit, and on average 20 to 25 have to be rescued.

The three men left their car on Wednesday to climb the difficult north side of Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest peak. They had planned to spend two nights on the mountain.

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