Video: Search for missing climbers continues

  1. Closed captioning of: Search for missing climbers continues

    >> it goes on.

    >>> in this country, a major drama playing out in the pacific northwest tonight. a race against time and the elements to rescue two climbers lost for three days now. they're on mt . hood, oregon's tallest peak. the bot body of a third climber was recovered from the mountain over the weekend. we have the latest from nbc's lee cowan at the rescue command post at mt . hood. lee, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian . we just got an update from rescuers. they said they were able to take advantage of a brief break in the weather today to get at least above the 10,000 foot level of mt . hood. that's where they think those two climbers may be, where they hope they've dug a snow cave or some sort of shelter. at one point, a chopper was hovering right over the summit of mt . hood. they still didn't find anything. the threat of falling ice and avalanches make it difficult to get up there by foot. the question tonight is where near its icy summit could it be hiding two young but experienced climbers. 29-year-old katie nolan and 24 had-year-old anthony vietti.

    >> the avalanche danger is so extreme that it will be a real slow go checking all the conditions as they go.

    >> reporter: relatives say nolan and viety knew the mountain well. they'd climbed it on, along with their friend luke gullberg. their myspace pages are full of images showing them climbing in all sorts of conditions and terrain. but something on mt . hood went wrong. on saturday, luke 's body was found around 9,000 feet on a glacier. the victim perhaps of a fall. but there was no siphon the other two. family members are hoping for the best, insisting that if anyone can survive another night on the mountain, it's them.

    >> i think they're strong enough to still be alive. absolutely. but today is our day.

    >> reporter: no one is quite sure what happened that night. and the clues are eerie. a camera found near luke 's body shows a happy climbing party well equipped with some survival gear. absent, however, was a radio locator beacon. puzzling to some, but not to climbers like eric linemayer. he summited the tallest peak in the continent and says beacons can give a mountaineers a false sense of security.

    >> regulating whether someone should have these, i don't think it will make a difference. it really comes down to good decision-making in the outdoors.

    >> reporter: now, brian , rescuers are going to be taking a look at high resolution photographs taken from the chopper today. so far, they haven't seen anything, and the weather is expected to deteriorate tonight going into tomorrow. brian .

    >> lee cowan at the command post there at mt . hood tonight. lee, thanks.

    >>> there is a holiday season

updated 12/14/2009 8:06:57 PM ET 2009-12-15T01:06:57

As a winter storm barreled toward Mount Hood, rescuers raced to find two experienced climbers missing for four days on Oregon's highest peak.

A military Black Hawk helicopter spent Monday scanning the upper reaches of the mountain as ground teams fanned out below. But the desperate search ended for the day as darkness fell and the storm approached.

"No sign at all," said Monty Smith, a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue team who was aboard the helicopter.

Bad weather has hampered the search for Anthony Vietti, 24, of Longview, Wash., and Katie Nolan, 29, of Portland, who have been missing since Friday. The next storm was expected to hit Monday night.

Body found Saturday
Mountaineers found the body of fellow climber Luke T. Gullberg, 26, of Des Moines, Wash., on Saturday at the 9,000-foot level on Reid Glacier.

Officials were examining photos from Gullberg's camera for possible clues about the location of his two companions.

Teri Preiss, an aunt of Vietti, said the photos suggested the trio had changed their route up the mountain to avoid one that looked too dangerous.

Preiss believes her nephew and Nolan were strong enough to survive somewhere on the 11,249-foot mountain.

Steve Rollins, a search leader, said the climbers had ice axes that could be used to hack out a snow cave.

"It's more like digging with a spoon than a shovel, but if your life is in danger, you can do wonderful things," Rollins said.

Photos from Gullberg's camera also showed the group had standard mountaineering gear such as helmets and ropes. Officials previously said the climbers did not have shovels.

Gullberg's body was found on a flat area near the base of a 1,500-foot headwall, Rollins told The Associated Press. It was unclear, however, if he had fallen.

Other photos showed the trio had been roped together at some point, but rescuers found no rope with Gullberg's body.

"That's a big part of the mystery. Where's the rope? Why wasn't the group together," Rollins said.

Using ropes at a particular point of a climb is a decision climbers make depending on their confidence, ability and terrain, Rollins said, adding that roping slows climbers.

Mount Hood is a popular site among climbers in the United States. In 25 years, it has been the site of dozens of climbing accidents and fatalities. The worst on record happened in May 1986 when nine people — seven students from Oregon Episcopal School and two adults — died after they dug a snow cave during a sudden storm.

The latest search, which comes almost exactly three years after another trio of experienced climbers died on Mount Hood during a December 2006 blizzard, has generated heated debate among some about the wisdom of tackling the mountain during the winter, a season when brutal storms can move in quickly.

Image: Mark T. Gullberg
AP
The body of 26-year-old Luke T. Gullberg was found Saturday.

Irresponsible trip?
In an online discussion for climbers at http://www.summitpost.org, some said it's irresponsible even for experienced climbers to take on Mount Hood during the winter while others said the challenge of winter mountaineering is what brings them to Mount Hood.

Veteran climber Jim Whittaker, the first American to conquer Mount Everest, said he understands why climbers like the challenge of tackling Mount Hood in the winter.

"It's exciting and fun when you're testing yourself against the power of nature," Whittaker said in an interview from his home in Port Townsend, Wash. "But you've got to know what you're doing; you've got to be prepared."

Republican John Lim, a former legislator who's running for governor, said Sunday he plans to keep pushing for a state law to require mountaineers to carry electronic locator devices when they head for the summit of Mount Hood.

Many rescuers and mountaineers oppose such a requirement, saying it would create a false sense of security and prompt some climbers to take risks they otherwise would avoid.

In the latest case, the three climbers did not have a radio locator beacon but they did have a cell phone that was briefly activated as they were preparing to begin their ascent.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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