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Portland Mtn Rescue
P.O. Box 5391
Three Dead, Many Injured on Mount Hood After Nine
Climbers Fall and an Air Force Helicopter Crashes -
PMR Coordinates Massive Rescue Effort
Thursday, May 30, 2002
(Updated Saturday, Aug 17, 2002)
pictures in our Photo Gallery
PMR/MRA Special Statement.
Portland Mountain Rescue joined and then coordinated a
massive rescue effort on Oregon's Mount Hood on May 30 after nine climbers fell
into the Bergschrund crevasse and a helicopter crashed during the subsequent
The nine climbers were swept into a 50-foot wide and 20-foot deep crevasse,
known as the Bergschrund, early in the morning. Three of the victims were
killed and four more were critically injured.
At 1:52 PM, in the midst of the rescue mission, a Pave Hawk helicopter from the
304th Rescue Squadron of the Air Force Reserve Command's 939th Rescue Wing
crashed while attempting to airlift one of the critically injured
climbers. The chopper lost lift, dipped to the Southwest, impacted nose
first into the mountain and rolled eight times down into the mountain's
crater. The accident injured the five crewmembers on board at the time -
one seriously - but, amazingly, no one was killed. The cause of the
helicopter accident is still under investigation.
Many believe that the strong skills of the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC)
pilot saved the many rescuers standing directly below the helicopter, as he
skillfully flew the Pave Hawk down and away from the crevasse. During the
chopper's barrel rolls into the crater, the pilot and co-pilot remained
strapped in and basically uninjured. However, the helicopter ejected and
rolled over at least two crewmembers, injuring them but miraculously not
killing them. The soft snow no doubt cushioned the men as the massive
aircraft moved over them.
Two local television station helicopters captured the horrific incident live
and the footage was broadcast worldwide for many days. Multiple satellite
TV trucks assembled in the Timberline Lodge parking lot at Mount Hood and
several victims and rescuers were interviewed in the days following May
30th. PMR's Steve Rollins, the rescue leader that day, granted countless
interviews and Rollins and PMR's Matt Weaver appeared on ABC News Nightline the
day after the tragedy. National magazines, such as National Geographic
Adventure, Climbing and People, featured stories on the incident, including PMR
photos from the scene.
The climbing accident happened just before 9:00 AM, when snow conditions on the
upper portion of 11,239-foot mountain were still firm and relatively icy.
The exact cause of the fall may never be known, but it appears that a member of
a 4-person climbing party fell during their descent somewhere near the Pearly
Gates (about 11,000 feet) and began sliding rapidly down the mountain.
All four climbers in the rope team were pulled down and began rapidly sliding
toward two other climbing parties.
The four people knocked a two-person party off their feet and the six person
mass struck the last person in an ascending 3-person rope team.
Ultimately, all nine people from the three rope teams were swept into the
Bergschrund crevasse at an elevation of 10,700 feet. Three of the
climbers - two from the first group and one from the second group - sustained
fatal injuries. Four more were critically injured and two others were
At 8:58 am, a nearby climber, who happened to be a local firefighter and the
father of one of the uninjured victims, made a 9-1-1 call to the Clackamas
County Sheriff. The Sheriff immediately called in PMR, as well as
American Medical Response (AMR) and the military. Helicopters from the
Air Force Reserve Command's 304th Rescue Squadron and the Oregon National
Guard's 1042nd Air Ambulance Unit responded to the mountain and participated in
the multiple airlifts.
Just after the accident, several nearby climbers helped to haul the surviving
victims out of the icy crevasse. Fortunately, several of the impromptu
rescuers were firefighters or doctors, so the injured received excellent
initial care prior to the arrival of mountain rescue professionals.
Five members of the AMR Reach and Treat (RAT) team were the first organized
team on scene and began administering medical care to the injured
climbers. A member of the Mount Hood Pro Ski Patrol joined the rescue
shortly thereafter. At 1:15 PM, a 5-person "hasty" team from Portland
Mountain Rescue reached the accident site, just after the Oregon National Guard
air lifted the most critically injured survivor. The PMR team stationed
two rescuers at the bottom of the Hogsback with one of the critically injured
victims and three at the edge of the Bergschrund with the remaining
patients. Amazingly, the climber at the bottom of the Hogsback helped to
extricate other victims from the crevasse before descending 300 vertical feet
and succumbing to shock from his injuries.
About 1:30 PM, the Oregon National Guard evacuated a second victim from the
edge of the crevasse. About 20 minutes later, the Air Force Reserve
Command's Pave Hawk helicopter flew in to air lift the third critical patient,
but disaster struck. Fortunately, just before the helicopter began to
lose altitude, an Air Force crewman cut the winch cable attached to the rescue
litter, avoiding injury to the rescuers and further injury to the victim as the
helicopter went down.
Immediately following the crash, PMR's Steve Rollins took control of the on
scene incident command and quickly brought order to a chaotic situation.
PMR rescuers, AMR RAT team paramedics and several others assessed the injured
helicopter crewmembers. After stabilizing the five new victims, the
rescuers went back to work on preparing the two remaining critically injured
climbers for helicopter evacuation.
At 3:25 PM, with the first Pave Hawk unavailable, an Oregon National Guard
helicopter air lifted the injured climber at the bottom of the Hogsback.
A short time later, another National Guard chopper extricated the final
patient, a Portland-area firefighter, from the edge of the Bergschrund.
Though one of the injured Air Force reservists was skied off the mountain, the
most seriously injured pararescue jumper (PJ) required an airlift. Around
4:00 PM, a second AFRC Pave Hawk landed its wheels on the bottom portion of the
Hogsback to evacuate the PJ. PMR and AMR rescue workers hot loaded the
patient directly into the side of the helicopter and the aircraft flew off
By 4:30 PM, all survivors had been evacuated or descended from the mountain, so
the PMR team, bolstered by the arrival of 13 more rescuers, began recovery
efforts on the three deceased climbers still inside the Bergschrund. PMR
specializes in technical rescues, such as crevasse extraction, and two of the
three victims were brought off the mountain late that evening. Darkness
prevented the removal of the third fatally injured climber until the following
day, so the highly trained 304th Rescue Squadron performed that recovery the
USDA Forest Service officials closed the upper portion of Mount Hood for a week
in order to investigate the crash scene and allow the removal of the Pave Hawk
wreckage. About a week after the crash, the Air Force Reserve Command
brought in a dual rotor Chinook helicopter from Pendleton, Oregon to air lift
the Pave Hawk from the mountain crater. The Chinook can easily operate at
altitudes well above Mount Hood's 11,239-foot summit.
This was one of the worst climbing accidents and one of the largest rescue
efforts in the history of the peak. It was also the first time a
helicopter has crashed during a mission there.
Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest peak, is the second most climbed mountain in the
world, next to Japan's Mount Fuji. An estimated 10,000 people per year
register to scale the peak (though some do climb without registering).
Unfortunately, Mount Hood does have a history of deaths and injuries, with over
100 killed on its slopes in the past 100 years. The peak is accessible
from a short 90 minute drive from Portland and many novice climbers attempt
climbs during the May and June "busy season". Though most of the climbers
involved on May 30th were veteran climbers, lack of experience, along with
other factors like improper training and poor equipment are common causes of
Mount Hood has many crevassed glaciers and can be quite hazardous, despite the
high volume of successful climbs each year.