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Breaking News

One Mt. Hood Hiker's Body Found

Aired December 17, 2006 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hell, I am Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. IN THE MONEY begins in a moment but first these headlines. The search for three missing climbers is still underway in Oregon's Mt. Hood. Searchers say they expect major developments in the next few hours. The men have not been heard from since last weekend.

SGT. SEAN COLLINSON, CLACKAMAS CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Our expectation is that we're going to have teams in place. We can hopefully get in to where we initially got that cell phone signal from a few days ago. And hopefully check that out and check out a few other things if we can.

The weather is right now great. Its' really cold up there, but other than that, wind is down so the people that are up there are able to get good visibility on what they're able to see. They're not having the whiteout conditions that they were having yesterday where snow was blowing.

So they have good line of site so if these people are out walking around or trying to be found they should be seeing them as well.


WHITFIELD: All right.

And right now we want to take you live to the Mt. Hood area where I understand you're going to be able to hear from Gary Tiffany - or actually, Gary, you're with me now?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fredricka. It's Dan Simon here. I'm waiting to get the sergeant on the phone here.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dan, why don't you then update me?

SIMON: Actually I'm going to pass the phone to Captain Mike Braibish who can fill you in on all the details. I am going to listen in as well. Captain?

CAPT. MIKE BRAIBISH, OREGON NATIONAL GUARD (on phone): Hi. This is Captain Mike Braibish here.

WHITFIELD: Hi, there. This is Fredricka in Atlanta. Update me on where the search is right now there in Mt. Hood for these three missing climbers. BRAIBISH: Well, what's happening right now is we're getting a lot of information in right now that every bit of information, like we're looking at a bull's eye here, every bit of information shrinks that bull's eye down, OK? And we're getting a lot of information. We have great weather, we're getting a lot of information and that bull's eye is shrinking because we're getting people up on the mountain, we're getting a much better idea of what the situation is that we're facing up there.

Now, it may turn out that this target we're looking at is going to get a little bit bigger. What we have on the mountain right now is we've got two UA-60 Black Hawks up in the air. We've got a CH-47 Chinook up there. We're trying to get people with the mountaineering skills up on that peak to look at some more of that information up there.

WHITFIELD: OK. Can you give me anything, a little bit more specific about this target area? What is it that has piqued your interest, so to speak, in that location?

BRAIBISH: Well, we're acting on some of the information that we picked up yesterday. We're not going to go into specifics on that right now at this point because we need to confirm what it is that we've seen.

WHITFIELD: Well, is it an area that is close to where some of your climbers have been traversing?

BRAIBISH: No. The climbers were not able to get close to this area yesterday.


BRAIBISH: But what is happening today is we've got -- there are also mountains rescue folks on the mountain that traversed up to the peak and are making exploratory moves out there. The crew that we have lifted up there, the folks we have taken up there on the CH-47 Chinook, these are pararescuemen from the 304th Rescue Squadron. These are people who are highly skilled, highly trained folks that are onboard a helicopter that is a very excellent resource for getting up here and operating at this elevation.

WHITFIELD: So, give me an idea of what pararescue teams are equipped to do with the use of those Chinook and Blackhawks.

BRAIBISH: Well, what they can do is from moving off that CH-47 Chinook, they can position themselves to move around on the mountain. They have some very heavy-duty mountaineering gear. Of course they're going to have some communications equipment up there so they can relay information back to us.

You know, but the bottom line is that these are -- right now they're in a moment they're going to be mountaineering essentially.

WHITFIELD: So, are they also equipped to lower ropes and descend if they needed to in this area that you're considering a target area? BRAIBISH: Yeah. What we have -- we've got a number of capabilities up there in the helicopters. These helicopters that we have, the CH-47 and the UH-60s, they are used regularly here in Oregon to effect rescue missions. So, if we do need to insert personnel, we can put medics on the ground up there. You know, we've got those pararescuemen, and many of them have medical skills themselves. So, we've got people who can get in, get us information, and if we do find someone, they can provide care to somebody right there.

WHITFIELD: All right. And I'm just detecting this kind of excitement that you have in your voice. Yesterday, there was a moment where there was an area of interest but come to find out it wasn't particularly interesting after further investigation. Is this kind of interest parallel to that?

BRAIBISH: It's not parallel to that, no. What it is is we've taken several pieces of the information and refined the search for today. And again, you know, as I said, the information is like a target.


BRAIBISH: So, that target keeps shrinking and shrinking and shrinking, you know, and as we get closer it's possible that that target can get bigger once again. But, you know ...

WHITFIELD: Sorry. Go ahead.

BRAIBISH: Right now, we are -- we've got excellent weather conditions. We have got -- we've had the ability to get people in the aircraft up. And working on the mountain and doing what we need to do, and that is getting information and getting us closer to finding the climbers.

WHITFIELD: OK. And can you give us an idea whether it's the north or south side of the mountain? Because I know for a while the concentration was on the north side.

BRAIBISH: Stand by. We're getting some additional information. I'm going to pass you back over.

SIMON: Hey, Fredricka. Dan Simon here. Can you hear me?


SIMON: Just wanted to let you know we're hearing that apparently some folks on that Chinook helicopter have now spotted a snow cave and they've seen some equipment, including some ropes. They have personnel, rescuers on their way to that exact location. This is the location where they believe they got that cell phone ping last week.

I'm listening in trying to get some more information. But that is a significant development in the sense that they did see that snow cave and some equipment. We can't necessarily presume that's where we believe one of the climbers is holed up, but certainly there is some evidence at this point pointing to that, and again, crews are on their way to that location as I speak.

WHITFIELD: And so, Dan, are you able to discern about how long it would take for this equipment to get to this area where it is believed to be a snow cave?

SIMON: The information I've been told is that it's not going to take that long because crews did reach the summit just a little while ago. And where this location is thought to be is just below the summit.

So, the fact that the conditions are good today, the wind is not whipping around like it was yesterday and in previous days, suggests that this can be a pretty rapid mission in the sense that they can get there fairly quickly. And we are hoping to get some information in the next few minutes, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. And the captain we were talking to a moment ago, Dan, he had to tear away -- if you could one more time update us on exactly who we were talking to at that moment.

SIMON: You were talking to Captain Mike Braibish, but I'm getting some additional information from a sergeant from the Hood River Sheriff's Department, and what he is telling me is that just a short while ago some personnel on a Chinook helicopter spotted what they believe is a snow cave and some equipment next to that snow cave.

That is a significant find because as you know, one of the climbers, Kelly James, he called his family a week ago today to say that he was trapped in a snow cave and that the other two climbers had gone for help. We know that James used that cell phone and rescuers were able to get a ping from that phone and were able to isolate his location, at least in terms of like a quarter of a mile they believe that they zeroed in on that location and it was accurate -- Fredricka, can you hang on for a second?

WHITFIELD: Yep. Go ahead, Dan.

SIMON: I will pass the phone here to sergeant who's got some new information. Sergeant, this is Fredricka Whitfield. Can you explain what we know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. Yeah, right at the moment, we just lifted off crews in a helicopter so they can try to get to a spot where we found some equipment, some rope anchored to the mountain with a harness on it, and it looks like there's probably the entrance to a snow cave.

WHITFIELD: And from what proximity were your crews able to see this? They were able to see this from one of the choppers that went by the area?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes. One of the choppers went up and spotted it, and they returned here to the Hood River airport and got their plan together and just lifted off to go back to -- to try to get exactly right to the spot. WHITFIELD: So, sergeant, what is it going to take in order to get closer to this location where you're talking about, this rope being anchored to a harness? How would you be able to investigate this further given even though the weather conditions are better today, it's still a treacherous area for any chopper to get to close?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. That's basically what the meeting was about a few minutes ago before they lifted off. They developed a game plan. We have people on the summit or near the summit which will assist the climbers, and once they get there and all the guys that know what they're doing will find out if they can be lowered down or if they have to climb down.

WHITFIELD: And so, again, this location is just -- is near the summit, that 11,000-foot mark where the summit is.


WHITFIELD: It is near it meaning just below it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And they're estimating maybe 300 feet below the summit.

WHITFIELD: And about how many folks, rescuers and rescue climbers do you have out there to be able to get a bit closer to this location?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, there was probably 10 to 12 that was in the chopper, and I'm not sure how many is on the summit.

WHITFIELD: Can you give me an idea of what some of the obstacles are?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, it's just, you know, the extreme avalanche danger. There's snow above them and that kind of stuff. And because it's really steep right there, it's going to be difficult for them guys to get in there. It is very difficult.

WHITFIELD: Dan was explaining a moment ago just kind of refreshing our memories that it's Kelly James whose cell phone was kind of detected in an area near this summit in some sort of snow cave there, which Kelly James had described to his family where he was holed up. Now, the other two climbers, Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke, as Dan was explaining, they had all gotten separated because perhaps the other two were going to get help.

Do you have any idea, you know, in regards to this location, this target area, just how far they all may be separated?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we don't. You know, until we get there, you know, somebody actually gets there on the ground and looks around, we really don't know. And that could take another hour or so.

WHITFIELD: Mm-hmm. And so sergeant, what is the next step right now? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next step is to get to that location, you know, get somebody there on the ground that can look around and see what's going on and then continue from there. If all three are there, that's going to be great. If not, we will continue the search for Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke.

WHITFIELD: And so, on the ground at I guess the command post- type area where all of these various rescue mission entities are all kind of collaborating, what are the discussions right now about how to get to these locations and how to make sure you're not overlooking potential clues by zeroing in on this one target?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. We have quite a few other teams out that were tasked to continue the search for Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke, and they're still continuing to do that. The teams that went up today to the summit and just lifted off here, they were tasked to go for this cell phone site as of last night. And they were planning on going there anyway. So, everything should be working as planned, we hope.

WHITFIELD: And what's the timetable? I mean, given the weather conditions, even though it's a bit clearer, do you feel like you're dealing with a narrow window of opportunity in order to get this kind of apparatus the to this location?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Weather will be a factor. It starts getting really windy again, then it's going to, you know, be a problem.

WHITFIELD: And what is the forecast in that area?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now it's beautiful, sunny, and the winds, you know, are moderate, so we got a lot of high hopes.

WHITFIELD: OK. And about when did you get this indication that there was this target area that has kind of given you all a bit more optimism about being able to get to at least one of the climbers, possibly Kelly James?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Last night, the last helicopter came back with some information that they thought they saw this spot and thought there could have been something there, but they -- you know, it wasn't confirmed, so they went up early this morning and were able to confirm it.

WHITFIELD: And talk to me about how your crews are able to, you know, stay fresh themselves, replenish themselves, make sure that even the equipment is up to snuff given the kinds of conditions you're dealing with there at Mt. Hood?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Of course, everybody's kind of reenergized right now, but the crews got a good rest last night and they're willing -- more than willing to go.

WHITFIELD: How optimistic are you about this development? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks good. You know, you can't -- you know, until it's a done deal, you know, we can't really know for sure, but everybody is sure hoping.

WHITFIELD: Yesterday, we heard from some of the family members, namely the mothers of all three of these climbers. Are they still in the general staging area and getting these same kinds of updates about your search?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. The sheriff actually talked to them this morning and kind of filled them in on what we got and this late- breaking stuff I'm hoping that they -- they're not out here at the airport where I'm at, so I'm kind of -- I don't know where they are at the moment. But they've been informed of what's going on.

WHITFIELD: Mm-hmm. OK. And describe to me what some of the potential concerns or dangers even might be for your rescue teams and your searchers just in trying to communicate what developments you are getting or having to communicate logistically where to focus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the communications, all that stuff, the two-way from the climbers and the pilots and all that stuff are being coordinated out of Callad (ph) Camp, our base of operations there and we have that manned and those guys will be talking to everybody that's involved. And the weather is good and communications are good between everybody, so it should be all right.

WHITFIELD: OK. We're going to take a short break for you and hopefully we can resume this conversation on the other side of the break. Just to recap for folks who are just now tuning in, searchers are there at Mt. Hood are feeling a bit encouraged because they're now focusing on what they're calling a target area, an area where they may see evidence of a snow cave.

They continue to look for these three men, very experienced climbers, in this area who may have possibly gotten separated. They've been missing for the past 10 days now. The weather has been clear today and yesterday, giving the rescue teams a chance to get the Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters up in the air, which may be, in part, why they were able to spot this snow cave of interest or at least this target of interest. We're going to take a short break right now and we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Hello again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Some encouraging news possibly in that 10-day search for the three missing climbers out in Mt. Hood, encouraging simply because the Hood River Sheriff's Department, one of the sergeants there, is saying that it looks good, that they now have a target area now that the weather has cleared for a second day, allowing the Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters and rescue teams to get up in the air. They're now focusing on an area that they are calling a target area where they may see evidence of a snow cave.

Our Dan Simon is there in the area and on the phone with us. Dan, you've been in great communication with a number of officers, with rescue teams, the Sheriff's Department, et cetera, and just hearing their voices sounding like they're very optimistic but still aren't very clear on what they may be seeing, just hopeful that it may be leading them to these three climbers or at least one of them.

SIMON: Well, that's correct, Fredricka. This is a very significant development. We know that within the past few minutes a Chinook helicopter did spot what they believe is a snow cave, and they also saw some equipment, including some ropes right next to the cave.

This is the general area where they believe Kelly James is holed up, because they were able to isolate that location based on some cell phone -- based on some cell phone pings last week.

We know there's going to be a press conference here within the next few minutes and folks are going to be talking a little bit more about this information, but the strategy right now is to get some ground troops, some ground personnel to that area. And we're told they can do that relatively quickly for the first time today because the weather is so good. It's absolutely clear out here. For the first time rescue crews actually able to get to the top of the summit. And because of that, we believe that they are now able to get to this area where they spotted this snow cave and saw this equipment, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so, Dan, when we talk about getting to that area, this 11,000 mark, the summit area, it could be potentially by lowering some rescue climbers via any one of the choppers, via rope or perhaps even traversing that way. Any idea what they're more partial too?

SIMON: I really can't tell you. My general sense, however, is that they're actually going to get to that area by foot because they were relatively close. You're talking about a couple hundred feet, so my sense is that they're going to be able to get there by foot and be able to actually look into that snow cave and see what they can find.

Again, this is a significant development because after all, authorities were trying to zero in on that location the last couple days. They were unable to because the weather was just downright miserable, and for the first time today, one week since this ordeal began, we have some outstanding weather, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Dan, just a reminder for folks who are just tuning in, in moments from now we understand a press conference will be taking place there at the foot of Mt. Hood to get an idea -- and there's a live picture right there -- get an idea of just how their search is coming along in another up-to-date fashion.

Meantime, let's talk act those weather conditions. While, Dan they are much for favorable today and yesterday, it's still quite important and potentially dangerous for any one o close to mountain because we've seen that in, you know, past rescue missions where, you know, there are a lot of vulnerabilities when you're dealing with the Chinook or even Black Hawk helicopters so close to these peaks.

SIMON: Yeah. This requires some expertise on the part of any helicopter pilot. And you're right. What can happen up there is the winds can whip up in a hurry, and when that occurs, you can have some serious -- there can be some danger. And you notice the helicopters who are on this mission are topnotch. They have a lot of experience. But they wouldn't be putting themselves in jeopardy if they really felt like the weather was an issue today. I can tell you just from looking up for the first time, you can actually really see the peak and you're not seeing any wind whatsoever.


SIMON: We were told ...

WHITFIELD: Dan, I'm sorry. I'm going to cut you off because it looks like this press conference may be beginning. I believe this is Captain Mike Braibish right now.

All right, Dan. Well, it looks like they're getting close to beginning. I interrupted your thought. Why don't you continue?

All right. Looks like we lost Dan as well. While we're waiting for this press conference to get under way, let me just bring you up to date on why this is potentially significant. Let's hear it from the captain right now.

BRAIBISH: ... information that we have right now.

We've been using information. It's kind of like we're looking at a bull's eye. Every bit and piece of information has the potential to shrink down that circle and refine the information we have and refine our search.

The information that we got yesterday shrank that circle down a bit. Today, getting up on the mountain with this clear weather and getting crews up on the mountain with their boots on the ground, we shrunk that circle down a little bit farther.

What we have right now is that we are focusing on an area where we found some equipment that it is relatively close to where we had the cell phone signal. Now, in addition to this equipment, we found what we believe is a snow cave, and we have crews that are heading toward the mountain, they are possibly on the mountain right now, that are going to investigate what we found up there.

Now, we do not know at this point with any definitive information if we have found the climbers. What we have is a target that has shrunk down with each additional bit of information.

It may be possible that that target's going to get bigger after these crews that we have got up on the mountain now, after we've gotten them up here, they may come back and say we haven't found anything. We don't know anything for certain about the status of the climbers. But we are zeroing in on a potential location for them.

We believe we have found the snow cave. We're going to go get -- we've got crews on the ground up there investigating it. We're confident it is a snow cave. QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BRAIBISH: We have pararescue men on board a CH-47 Chinook. That aircraft is a dual-rotor helicopter that can operate at high elevations quite successfully and can get crews, any personnel, up at elevation. These are folks who, in some cases, have been serving in Afghanistan, in Iraq, so they are very experienced pilots that are going up there and taking these experienced and skilled pararescue men up there.

Now, everyone -- we continue to work also very closely with the Portland Mountain Rescue. They are also on the mountain right now. So, what it is is we're trying to converge on this point and get as much more information as we can right now so -- and we are very hopeful that we will have more information later today.


BRAIBISH: Yesterday, we started -- I talked about collecting the clues. We had imagery that we thought might be that equipment. This morning, when the Chinook launched, they got a closer look. We were able to shrink that circle down and define that, so it was crews that were on that CH-47, pararescuemen and members of the Oregon Guard that are on that CH-47 spotted that.

QUESTION: Why didn't they lower themselves, if they were right there, on the Chinook.

BRAIBISH: There are a couple of reasons for that. Yesterday you have to remember was extremely windy, yesterday. It would have been -- the risk was not acceptable, so we took what we had, that piece of information, brought it back here to let the sheriff decide what course of action we were going to take today.

So based on that information that we took, we went and investigated this morning under safe, clear weather circumstances. We now know that we're zeroing in on that.


BRAIBISH: The equipment that we found? There was an ice spike and a coil of rope.


BRAIBISH: It's mountain climbing equipment.

I don't know exactly what it is.


BRAIBISH: That's going to depend upon what the conditions are exactly up on the mountain.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE), some footprints, some of these other possible signs besides the fact that you found some gear. BRAIBISH: Yeah. What we did is we got a better look up there today at what we found up there. We thought we might have seen some footprints. The closer look that we got up there, I don't know if we confirmed that they're footprints up there, but what we doe do know, we have that equipment there and what we are fairly certain is an ice cave. So, this is a developing situation right now. Information is going to be coming in. We'll get more detail out to you as it comes in. At this point, I've got no new information for you on what we've got, so I'll take one more question.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) any idea of when they might be up there under the best of circumstances?

BRAIBISH: I don't know for certain. I don't know for certain how long. It's going to depend on the conditions on the mountain. I don't have that tactical fidelity from here. We'll see if we can find that.


BRAIBISH: Yes. They're not going to hike. This is up on the north-northeast portion of the mountain close to where we had that cell phone signal. They're not going to hike. They're going to climb down. It's a very steep area up there and this is very risky to get them up to this elevation and climb, so they are going to descend down to what we think is that ice cave.


BRAIBISH: I'll follow up on that one for you, folks. And at this point, I've given you all the information that I have, and as soon as we have more information, we'll get it back and we'll get it out to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Right there you're -- Captain Mike Braibish just might have another comment.

DET. SGT. GERRY TIFFANY, HOOD RIVER SHERIFF'S DEPT.: I'm Detective Sergeant Gerry Tiffany. I am the PIO officer for the Hood River County Sheriff's Office for all this since it started. I do have a little bit more information. The teams on the summit are up there and they are in coordination with the teams in the helicopter, and they'll determine when they get there who actually or how they're going to descend. And we did, you know, confirm, we do look like we have footprints. The footprints going towards the summit. And of course the wind blows all trace of them away. And ...

QUESTION: How close to the summit.

TIFFANY: I'm not real sure. They didn't really say. The position of the snow cave is about 300 feet below the summit.

QUESTION: Where would they bring the rescue climbers?

Where would they bring them?


TIFFANY: If the rescue takes place now, they'll probably fly them directly to a hospital.

QUESTION: Sergeant, based on where the helicopter was, if there was somebody in that snow cave (INAUDIBLE).

TIFFANY: Presumably, but if you're in a snow cave it's pretty soundproof. The wind up there is pretty mild today, but nobody has come out to wave or anything like that. But the clues are there.

QUESTION: Is there anything we're missing? We've heard the footprints, we believe, an ice spike and we have hard a coil of rope and footprints. Is there any other evidence besides those things?

TIFFANY: They are reporting a Y, a Y -- kind of climbers talk for, yes, we're here, that kind of thing.

QUESTION: Is that what a Y symbolizes?

TIFFANY: Some climbers do that, yes.

QUESTION: An emergency signal?

TIFFY: It's yes, we're here type thing, but we don't know when it was put there. You know, everybody is thinking about the blowing snow, but right now that's pretty solid ice up there. It's not anything blowing around so (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). Just explain what it is like at that point.

TIFFANY: Practically straight up and down. They were saying 60, 65 degrees. You know, they're not going to be hiking thereupon. They have to climb. Ice picks and ropes and anchors and everything. It will be slow going because they'll have to be real careful because there's considerable danger up there.

QUESTION: Is there any significance of them (INAUDIBLE).

TIFFANY: That's something they'll decide on the scene. The teams on the top that reach the summit in coordination with the ones out of the rescue helicopter, you know, they'll have to make the -- on scene because we can't second guess them.

QUESTION: How do you keep people - the searchers especially, the excitement of this but at the same time understanding the difficulty of getting there, don't maybe try to go too quickly or put themselves -- not to do it on purpose but ...

TIFFANY: Yeah. I was at the briefing when they -- right before they started, and that was the last parting words of the sheriff. It's be safe. That's his orders, and they will do that to try to be, you know, as safe as they can be. And they won't unnecessarily risk anybody else's life. You know, they're going to do what they have to do. QUESTION: Best case scenario, this would be setting the stage for a dramatic rescue. (INAUDIBLE)

TIFFANY: Yes, it is.


TIFFANY: You know, I looked at some of the pictures that came back on the chopper this morning, and it's laid out there right but it's like -- somebody had to put it there. You know, it's just ...


TIFFANY: They're going to be up there as long as it takes, if the weather turns bad and - that's the big thing right now is the wind. If the wind comes up, they've got to be pulled off.


TIFFANY: I believe so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're working on that.



TIFFANY: Yeah. It's kind of off to the east of it a little bit.

QUESTION: What's the temperature up there right now exactly?

TIFFANY: I know this morning it was probably below zero. I don't know what it is now.

QUESTION: The rescuers will be evacuated from the mountain or will they climb down?

TIFFANY: You mean when they're all done? Again, that will depend on the situation, the time of day, the weather. They're equipped and ready to go and they could spend the night up there, whatever it takes, or hike down, climb down, whatever.


TIFFANY: What's that? No, I couldn't, not by the pictures I saw.


TIFFANY: OK. The first name is spelled G-E-R-R-Y. And last name is T-I-F-F-A-N-Y.

QUESTION: And your title again?

TIFFANY: I am a sergeant with the sheriff's office.


TIFFANY: Yes, Hood River County Sheriff's Office.

BRAIBISH: We'll get back to you with more information as we get it.

WHITFIELD: All right. You've been listening to the Detective Sergeant Gerry Tiffany of the Hood River Sheriff's Department as well as from the Oregon National Guard Captain Mike Braibish, both expressing the reasons why they're relatively optimistic in this very lengthy search over a week now for these three missing climbers, namely because they have been able to spot what they believe to be a snow cave and along with this snow cave, just about 300 feet below the summit, which is at 11,000 feet on Mt. Hood, they were able to locate that there was an ice pick, a coil of rope, even spotting some footprints in that general vicinity.

And they also noticed something of a "Y" that was carved into the snow and ice here on the side of this mountain. The sergeant was explaining that oftentimes very experienced climbers will know to mark a "Y" for, "yes, we are here," but he cautioned he wasn't sure if that was a relatively new "Y" or if that was old from some other climbers.

Bottom line, they're encouraged that this target area that they first started looking at yesterday, once the weather broke, they got a clearer view of it today and are able to see that there is a snow cave. But they caution it's still unclear about whether those three climbers are anywhere near that location. They're simply encouraged by the equipment that they see there. And they also speak of the weather conditions still making it very volatile for those rescuers to get that area.

If it turns out they need to look closer at that snow cave, it's likely that these pararescuers, these very elite team of rescuers, would descend from helicopters to this area because it is just too treacherous for them to make the climb to this location. Let's talk a little bit more about the weather conditions out there. While it is clearer, Jacqui Jeras in the weather center, is clearer, the sergeant as well as the captain talked about these potential wind shears that could make it very dangerous for these rescuers in that area.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. The higher you go in elevation, the stronger the winds will be. And the best wind reports we're getting is at 5,500 feet, which are only about five miles per hour. So, that's extremely light and really good. The winds are fairly calm. Much more so than what we were seeing in the latter part of the week. And we're expecting relatively tranquil conditions across much of the Pacific Northwest over the next couple days so we do have a couple days to deal with pretty good conditions.

You can see some of the pictures there and also on satellite pictures, just a little bit of cloudiness trying to creep into the area, but we're not really anticipating much more in terms of the snowfall. Temperature-wise, the best obs I can get there were around 5,500, about 22 degrees at this hour. You go up in elevation, that temperature is going to drop so you are going to lose a couple degrees per thousand feet Fahrenheit, so 22 degrees at 5,500 feet, we're looking at maybe middle to upper teens, that's what the temperatures are as you get closer to the summit. I believe they're around the 11,000-foot mark.

So, overall, we have a big ridge of high pressure which is dominating much of the Pacific Northwest, keeping skies overall relatively clear. The temperature obviously very cold, staying below freezing, but they are going to be warming up a little over the next couple days, so when you consider what it's like typically this time of the year, conditions are fairly ideal for rescuing.

WHITFIELD: Very good. All right, Jacqui and we heard from the sergeant that the rescuers are equipped for this kind of weather. They're even equipped to stay overnight there on the side of the mountain if they have to once they try to zero in on this search looking for these three climbers. Jacqui, thanks so much.

We're going to get a live update from Dan Simon, who is there in Mt. Hood, getting these up to dates from many of these officers with the Oregon National Guard as well as the Hood River Sheriff's Department. We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.



BRAIBISH: What we have right now is that we are focusing on an area where we found some equipment, that it is relatively close to where we had the cell phone signal. Now, in addition to this equipment, we found what we believe is a snow cave, and we have crews that are heading toward the mountain, they are possibly on the mountain right now, that are going to investigate what we found up there. Now, we do ...


SIMON: I'm Dan Simon in Hood River, Oregon. Some breaking news on the search for those three missing climbers. We were told just a short time ago that crews in a Chinook helicopter spotted what they believe is a snow cave. That is a significant find because a week ago today one of those missing climbers, Kelly James, called his family. He said he was in trouble. He was on his cell phone. He called his family and said he was trapped in a snow cave. He said the other two climbers went to go get some help. We haven't heard anything about those other two climbers, but for the last week or so we were led to believe that Mr. James was in that snow cave.

And the personnel on that helicopter only a few minutes ago confirmed the sighting of three significant things -- next to that snow cave, they saw, one, an ice spike, also a coil of rope, and what has also been described as a "Y," which authorities describe as some sort of emergency signal.

We are told that crews are on their way to that location. The helicopter is actually going to drop them down to an area near that location. And then they're going to go actually descend. This is on the north side of the mountain. This is very steep terrain and they're going to climb down to that location where they saw this snow cave. But again, a significant development. This is what they had been trying to find over the last several days. The weather hasn't been good. Finally, we got some good weather today here, Jacqui Jeras, it is clear up here and that is really aiding in the search.

JERAS: Dan, have we heard any kind of time frame? How long might it take for them to get to the cave site?

SIMON: Well, we are told this is right below the summit, maybe about 1,000 feet below the summit, and for the first time today, crews were actually able to get too t the top of the summit. The problem is that this is a very dangerous maneuver in term offense what the helicopter pilot has to do. As I said, he's going to drop them in a safe area, and then they're going to descend to that area.

Assuming the elements are in their favor, and we believe they are, this can happen relatively quickly, perhaps in the next few minutes or maybe an hour or so, but the way it was characterized, this is something that could be accomplished fairly quickly, Jacqui.

JERAS: We're very concerned also about the avalanche aspect. We have great weather, but the powder conditions, very unstable there, so that is a possibility as the guys move through this area. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Jacqui. Live pictures now coming out of Ft Hood (sic). You are looking there at are a number traversing this portion of the mountain even though just as Dan reported and the Hood River Sheriff's Department and Oregon National Guard also emphasized they're likely to lower any of the rescuers who would be descending from choppers closest to that snow gave it comes to that, but right now at least in a lower portion far from that 11,000-foot summit, we're looking at climbers who have gathered there on the mountain in these live pictures that are being provided right now.

Now, Dan, it's difficult for anyone to try to forecast the amount of time we're dealing with and how long it could take them to get near to this snow cave given the weather conditions that Jacqui was explaining as well.

We heard from the sergeant who said if the rescuers have to, they can even overnight on the mountain if they're unable to get to that snow cave tonight. They'd be prepared to try again in the morning by overnighting on that mountain.

SIMON: Well, the way this has been characterized is that this can happen sometime this afternoon, assuming the weather conditions hold up. The goal is to get that Chinook helicopter in a safe area where it can actually land and get those rescuers off the helicopter and then, because we're talking about very steep terrain, they actually have to descend about 1,000 feet to get to this area, this snow cave.

And again, within the past few minutes, authorities confirming that they did spot the snow cave by air, also seeing some equipment nearby. Obviously, this is suggesting that this is the snow cave that they've been trying to zero in on the last few days. Fredricka, you will recall exactly a week ago one of the climbers, Kelly James, phoned his family frantically saying that he was in some kind of trouble and that he was in a snow cave. And for the last week or so, authorities have been trying to pinpoint that location.

They were able to pinpoint it by using some cell phone pings, and the goal over the last week was to get to it. The problem is the weather has just been so miserable that the elements prevented them from getting to that area. And finally, after one week's time, the weather improved dramatically enough where they were actually able to observe this snow cave and attempt to get rescuers to the area. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: And Dan, not to be confused with the military base of Ft. Hood, I am meaning to say Mt. Hood there in Oregon. Let's talk about the significant finds in the proximity of this snow cave that the officials have been talking about. Rope, an ice pick, and even a mark of a "Y," for yes, we are here, which is something a lot of experienced climbers are inclined to leave behind, although these officials said they're not sure if this is an old mark of some other climbers, but it could very well be these three climbers or any one of them.

SIMON: Well, I don't think there's any doubt on their part that this is location they've been trying to find, only because this is the area they zeroed in on based on those cell phone pings, and this is right at that location that they've been talking about for the past several days, Eliot glacier, which is on the north face of the mountain, about a thousand feet below the peak.

And in talking about the equipment, he said it was clearly laid out. This wasn't something like it was just sort of thrown there. It was sort of laid out in a pattern to gain the attention of rescuers.

And what's most significant here is along with that equipment, and like you said, Fredricka, an ice pick and a coil of rope, there was also an emergency signal. That's the way they're characterizing it, a giant "Y." They saw that in the snow, and they also saw some footprints, so obviously a lot of evidence pointing to the fact this is the location they've been searching for and finally, because the elements cleared up, they were able to see it today.

WHITFIELD: And so Dan, they have so many different rescue teams and different levels of rescue teams that are fanned out across Mt. Hood. We're looking at a live picture which shows what appear to be at least in this view, a dozen climbers, that are on an area there. Have you any idea of where this location is in proximity to the place of interest?

SIMON: I'm not seeing the picture you're seeing, but what I can tell you is the amount of resources devoted to this search, it's been described as unprecedented. Over 100 rescuers yesterday on the mountain alone. Obviously, a significant amount of people trying to find these three missing men.

In terms of what's happening today, we know that there are folks going up on the south side and the north side of the mountain. And one thing that Jacqui Jeras was talking about, she was talking about the threat of avalanches. And alongside these crews, there are people who specialize in detecting and avoiding avalanches.

We haven't seen any avalanches today. They haven't told us about that. But certainly, the threat is there. But right now at this exact moment, this Chinook helicopter is attempting to make a move where they can actually land, get these rescuers off the helicopter, and descend about a thousand feet to this area, this snow cave, where they believe at least one of the missing climbers is holed up, if not all three of them.

And so, we're hoping to get some more information in the next few minutes. We're told that this is something that could take place this afternoon. Particularly if the weather holds up. And I'm looking up right now, and we're seeing the sun, we're seeing just a few clouds. It's a clear day. It is chilly, and you've got to remember up there on Mt. Hood the temperatures are probably about, you know, zero. I mean, it's cold. And overnight it gets below zero. But in terms of today, the elements looking good, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, speaking of those elements, as we look at these live pictures of many of these rescuers there traversing Mt. Hood. Let's bring in Jacqui Jeras again and talk about these weather conditions. Well, today has been the best day for these rescuers.

The officials, they were able to say, this is why in part they were able to kind of piece together information they started getting yesterday and then zero in on it today come to find out to see all that equipment and that snow cave.

JERAS: Right. Even just a couple days ago, too, by the way, Fredricka, they couldn't even see the top of the mountain, so chances is they wouldn't have a visual idea of where they would be. They couldn't get any aerials in there. So, this has been a huge break in the weather that they needed to be able to find those signals and find this snow cave today.

Now in terms of weather observations, we're trying to get a good handle on exactly what the temperatures are out there. But right now, none of the observing sites are operating above about 6,600 feet or so, so we have to kind of interpolate a little bit, and we're guessing at this time maybe into the low teens at best for the temperature at this hour. We heard Dan mention earlier the temperatures certainly well below zero into the overnight hours.

But we've got a good stretch here, we are in the peak times of day where we get the best heating, we are going to go through the afternoon hours, and we have almost a good four or five hours of daylight still, and that's certainly some good news to help in the rescue effort as well.

We are concerned about the threat of avalanches. There's a moderate threat of avalanches above 6,000 feet. You know, we've had between one to three feet of snow in the latter part of just this last week, and that's a lot of heavy snow to dump in a very short period of time. The temperatures have been freezing and they have been thawing out a little bit in the interim, so that creates very unstable conditions.

Most avalanches are triggered by people, so there is a risk for all of these climbers and all these rescuers that are out there in this effort today that, you know, one wrong slip, one wrong move and we could have some more trouble. So, hopefully that's not going to be happening. Obviously, these are very well trained people. Weather conditions overall outside of the cold temperatures really couldn't be more ideal. The winds are relatively calm.

We're talking only about maybe five miles per hour at 5,000 feet. Of course, the winds are going to be a little bit stronger the higher p you go, those guys are up there about 5,000 feet on top of that, so they'll be a little stronger. But you can see yesterday, we were getting pictures in and you could see some of the snow blowing up towards the top of the mountain even though it wasn't snowing. You could kind of see the haze from the snow in the air. And certainly we're not seeing that today. We're seeing some really crisp, very clear pictures at this hour.

WHITFIELD: So Jacqui, talk to me again about the winds, however. Even though you're talking about five-mile-per-hour winds at Mt. Hood and many other tall peaks you've got the unpredictability of other wind gusts and wind shears that come into play, which makes it that much more dangerous, particularly for rescuers in these choppers.

JERAS: Yeah. You have the winds that will go up and descend down the mountains. Topography affects the winds a great deal. We can get things like lenticular clouds and roll clouds and things as the winds kind of veer up and down in the atmosphere as a result of just the terrain, not the weather conditions right now.

But overall, we have what we call a big dome of high pressure sitting across the area, and winds -- or air actually descends in high-pressure systems so it's about as calm as it can possibly be. It doesn't get much more ideal than this wind wise up at this elevation.

WHITFIELD: Is there a way of knowing the forecast perhaps over the next couple days? Because those officials did indicate while they are happy to have an area to target today, it still could take them into the next day, so weather still very much a factor.

JERAS: Yeah. I think we've got at least a good 48 hours or so, Fredricka, great weather conditions. We think the skies should stay relatively clear, the wind should stay relatively calm, and the temperatures are going to be warming up a little in the next couple of days. We'll watch for temperatures, real lucky to get into the 20s there by tomorrow afternoon. So, things are certainly looking good. We've got a nice window of opportunity, but we do have another area of low pressure developing in the Gulf of Alaska, which could create some conditions going downhill, we think, maybe as early as Wednesday night.

But we think Thursday and Friday would be more likely. So, we've got a good couple days, the rest of today, we have all Monday and all Tuesday and hopefully most of the daylight hours on Wednesday before we need to get worried about another system pulling in.

WHITFIELD: All right. That's good to hear. And what do we believe the temperature might be about now?

JERAS: I'm guessing it's probably in the low teens.

Low teens at the best, 12 degrees, maybe.

WHITFIELD: Still cold but ...

JERAS: Yeah. Still cold. Not comfortable.

WHITFIELD: But as you go higher, we're talking about below-zero temperatures.

JERAS: Certainly have to protect yourself very well. Those guys up there need to be covered up.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jacqui, thank you so much for that update. As we continue to look at these live pictures here of Mt. Hood where rescuers are now focusing on an area of interest. They're calling it a target area, something they were able to narrow in on after getting some -- what they thought to be some rather vague information yesterday, and they zeroed in today, come to find out there is a snow cave and there is an ice spike as well as a coil of rope nearby, and a marker that many experienced climbers will use, which is forming a "Y" in the snow or, in this case, a lot of ice formation as well.

And so, the rescuers are hoping that that "Y" means for "yes, we are here," carved out by these three experienced climbers who have been missing now there on Mt. Hood for over ten days now. Kelly James, Brian Hall, and Jerry Cooke. Our Dan Simon is there. He's been monitoring the developments and was able to bring us a lot of this breaking information as these rescuers now try to descend on this area of interest, the target area.

But Dan, you were describing earlier, this is not an area they'll be climbing to. Instead, it's likely the rescuers would be descending from the helicopters that are now able to canvass the area because of the break in the weather.

SIMON: Right. This is very steep terrain, and I'm told that they're going to climb down to this area. It is sort of hard for me to get a grip on what we're seeing here from KOIN, our affiliate, but clearly, you see some people on a ridge.


SIMON: And obviously near the summit there as it pulls out. But it appears to me that -- well, based upon the image we saw a second ago and we're zooming in, sort of the upper left part of your screen, that's the area they're zeroing in on. I don't know if that's the actual snow cave but that seems consistent based upon the descriptions we were hearing. About 1,000 feet from the summit in an area called Eliot Glacier.

And Fredricka, as we reported earlier, about an hour ago a helicopter observed a snow cave and saw some equipment next to it and a rope and an ice spike and some sort of distress signal that's been characterized as a giant Y in the snow.

And it appears based upon this aerial view that helicopter was able to land and get rescuers off the chopper. And as you can tell, we were talking about this all morning it's very clear today. Finally. Because the weather has been downright nasty for the last several days.