PMR and 304th Rescue Sick Climber on Mount Hood
Thursday, May 23, 2002
(Updated Friday, May 24, 2002)
Late Thursday evening, at the request of the Clackamas County (Oregon)
Sheriff, Portland Mountain Rescue traveled to Mount Hood to join the
304th Rescue Squadron in the rescue of a sick climber on the Sandy
Glacier at the base of Sandy Headwall. This is one of the most
remote portions of the mountain and evacuation is difficult in any conditions.
Sometime Thursday afternoon, one member of an experienced three
member climbing party became ill and was unable to continue up the
mountain or return to Timberline Lodge. The two able bodied
climbers secured the victim and hiked back to Timberline Lodge to
report the situation. They stated that the victim had been
drifting in and out of consciousness.
Due to the remote location and the urgent health concerns, the Sheriff
summoned the 304th Rescue Squadron from the Air Force Reserve Command's
939th Rescue Wing to evacuate the climber.
Late in the evening, a 304th Pave Hawk helicopter lifted off from
Timberline Lodge, carrying one member of American Medical Response's
Reach and Treat (RAT) Team and PMR Vice President and Rescue Level
member Steve Rollins. To achieve the necessary altitude for
the rescue, only the helicopter crew and two additional persons were
allowed to go on the mission.
Using their night vision capabilities, the team from the 304th spotted
the lone climber in the moonlit darkness just below Sandy Headwall, at
an elevation of approximately 8,750 feet. Though seriously ill, the
victim was able to stand and signal using his headlamp.
Mr. Rollins was hoisted down onto the Sandy Glacier to assess the
patient and coordinate any necessary technical requirements. He
ascended 200 feet to make contact with the victim, and with some
assistance, the climber was able to descend to the extraction area.
After being secured to the hoist, the climber and rescuer were raised
into the helicopter and transported back to Timberline Lodge, where
an AMR ambulance was waiting.
As of the time of this report, the exact nature of the victim's illness
was unknown. It is possible that extreme dehydration could have
caused illness, as it appeared the climber had severe sunburn. Not
replacing lost fluids and electrolytes is a common cause of illness for
climbers, though we do not yet know if this was a factor in this case.
This incident also illustrates the need for all climbing parties to be
equipped for unforeseen accidents. This particular person was
reasonably prepared to protect himself from the environment while awaiting
rescue. Had a helicopter not been available for the mission, a
ground evacuation would have taken many hours longer. His
preparedness made the rescue easier and likely prevented further problems
from conditions such as hypothermia.