Friday, December 15, 2006

Pilots don't see hikers; efforts expanded Saturday

The AP reports:

A National Guard C-130 circled Mount Hood today in search of three missing mountaineers, but struck out, its commander said. Rescue workers defeated by three storms this week hope for a break in the weather tomorrow and are planning what one called a major push by climbing teams.

At a news conference today, officials produced a handwritten note that said the climbers took food and such gear as fuel, bivvysacks, a shovel and ropes, all of which could be helpful as the three hunkered down against the storms.

Rescuers hoped today's C-130 flights would give them information about where to search on the 11,239-foot mountain. The C-130 Hercules, a troops and equipment transport workhorse, is equipped with infrared imaging devices. But snow and clouds prevented it from gathering any thermal hits, and the equipment also iced up, said Col. Jon Proehl, commander of the 152nd Airlift Wing of the Nevada Air National Guard, which provided the plane.

The plane made three passes, one at 8,000 feet, the next at 10,000 feet and the last, over the top of the volcanic summit, at 12,500 feet. Proehl said two C-130s would be on standby for more flights Saturday from their base at Reno.

Mountaineering experts said that to survive, the climbers had to have dug good shelters. Proehl said the C-130’s equipment wouldn’t have detected body heat from a snow cave in any case. But the plane’s crew spotted no visible sign of the climbers, such as a piece of clothing secured outside a snow cave — and couldn’t see anything on the east side of the mountain.

The last clue to the climbers’ whereabouts was a cell phone signal returned from James’ cell phone on Tuesday.

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