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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview with Nick Watt, Clackamas County Sheriff's Department

Aired May 31, 2002 - 07:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The job of rescuing people in trouble has always been risky business. Just how risky became all too clear during a helicopter mission yesterday to rescue a group of climbers from Oregon's Mt. Hood. Just watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have a whole lot of wiggle room there if anything goes wrong. Well I didn't see anybody go up -- look out, look out, guys. There we are talking about things going wrong. Hang on, fellows. Oh, my goodness. Oh, that is horrible. Good lord. Oh, fellows. Oh, my goodness.

You're watching this live, folks. Oh, if only this was a movie.

JEFF LIVICK, TIMBERLINE SKI PATROL: I felt the rotor wash kind of dissipate, at which point I looked up. The cable was falling out of the helicopter and the helicopter's rotors started hitting the wall. Things flew everywhere. It started rolling down the hill, bodies flying out. Basically the most incredible thing I've ever witnessed in my life.

I watched one guy take two entire flips in the helicopter, hanging outside of it until his webbed gunner's belt finally broke, at which point it just left him sitting in the snow. And each consecutive roll left one more person sitting in the snow. So this helicopter finally came to rest upside down, with five people just sitting in the snow kind of wondering what in the heck had just happened.

CHAD HARSHBARGER, WITNESS: It was like a movie. You know you see these kind of action movies, that's what it kind of looked like. And it was amazing that none of the propellers or nothing hit any of us. You know for that type of situation to happen, I mean, no one got hurt from it. It's just amazing itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my goodness. Oh, that is horrible. Good lord. Oh fellows. Oh my goodness.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: It's incredibly hard to watch that. It seems unbelievable when you see that picture played over and over again that none of those on board the helicopter lost their lives.

Now for more on what caused the crash and the latest on the condition of the survivors, let's go live to the scene. Sergeant Nick Watt, the search and rescue commander of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Department, joins us now from Mt. Hood -- good morning, sir. Thanks so much for being with us.

What is the latest on the recovery effort there?

SGT. NICK WATT, CLACKAMAS COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Good morning.

The recovery effort, we've taken all people off the mountain, except for one of the deceased. As far as we know, we only have two left in critical condition. The rest are in good condition. And we actually had four who were treated and released.

ZAHN: When you see this scene played over and over again, don't you think it's a miracle that no one on board that helicopter was killed?

WATT: It's a total miracle. Originally, we had two helicopters up here and were shuttling the critical. And when this occurred, everything just seemed to break loose. And when we found out what had happened and we saw what had happened, we realized it was a miracle.

ZAHN: Let's explain to our audience this morning why the helicopter went in the first place. They were trying to rescue climbers who ran into trouble with a crevasse. Is it true now that it is three reported dead this morning among the climbers?

WATT: That's true. We have three dead individuals. We pulled two off the mountain last night, and we'll be going back up this morning to take the last one off.

ZAHN: I know that when the climbers started their hike they thought it was going to be a nice spring day. What happened to them? How did they get into so much trouble?

WATT: Well it started out -- it was a nice spring day, in fact. The whole day was nice. What happened was they were going along the hot back, about 800 feet off the summit of the mountain, which is about 11,200 feet. The summit down there is 11,200 feet.

And it was a group of four climbers and two climbers and three climbers. And the four climbers apparently lost their footing, or two of them lost their footing. They slid down into the two climbers, who then slid down into the three climbers, and they all went into the crevasse.

ZAHN: And then I understand that the luck was that the climber on top had a cell phone and it was he who made the call to 911?

WATT: Not only did he have a cell phone, but he was also a paramedic. And there was also an ER doctor up there. So we were able to get the condition of the climbers quickly. And we started air rescue as soon as we found what we had.

ZAHN: Well, I'll tell you something, Sergeant Watt, when you see these pictures, I guess it strikes all of us that those rescuers on board the helicopter were very, very lucky indeed. Sergeant Nick Watt, thank you for getting up at basically in the middle of the night to join us on AMERICAN MORNING. Appreciate your time. Good luck with the recovery.

WATT: OK, thank you very much.

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