COOPER SPUR, Ore. – Notes left by a trio of climbers missing on Mount Hood show they have supplies that could help them survive in the blizzard conditions on Oregon's highest mountain, officials said Friday.
"I always knew they were squared away," said Capt. Christopher Bernard of the Air Force Reserve's 304th Rescue Squadron. "But it just tells me they did all the right things."
At a news conference, Bernard pointed to an orange, handwritten note the climbers left at a ranger station before they started their climb last week.
It said the climbers took gear such as food, fuel, bivvy sacks, a shovel and ropes, all of which could be helpful as the three hunkered down in the storms.
The note was among three pieces of paper authorities say are known to have been left behind. The others were in the climbers' vehicle left at the trail head and at the Cloud Cap campground at about 6,000 feet, which is a staging area for the search.
The note displayed by Bernard was faxed to the sheriff's department Sunday, the day the climbers were reported missing, said officials at the U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Hood River.
Bernard also said a C-130 Hercules aircraft was to fly from Nevada to join the search,
The C-130 would be more effective against the winds, which have reached up to 100 mph in gusts at higher elevations on the 11,239-foot mountain. Plans called for the plane to go up at about 2 p.m. Pacific time, he said.
Bernard said that the rescue teams were preparing for a major push on Saturday, when the weather was expected to be better, though colder.
"This is going to be probably an assault from all directions — south side, north side and helicopter," he said.
Volunteers have braved blistering winds and blinding snowstorms to no avail since the trio was reported missing after what was to be a two-day climb of the rugged north face of the peak.
Authorities believe that one of the climbers — 48-year-old Kelly James of Dallas, Texas — may be in a snow cave just below Mount Hood's summit. On Sunday, he used his cell phone to call relatives to say he was in a snow cave and the two others had gone to get help on Saturday.
Hood River County sheriff's Deputy Chris Guertin said that under optimum conditions a rescue team might be able to reach the snow cave within four to six hours from the Cloud Cap Inn at the 6,000-foot level.
On Friday morning, two wives and a sister of the climbers appeared on morning news shows.
"They're not quitters," said James' wife, Karen, as she locked hands in a single grip with climber Brian Hall's sister, Angela, and Michaela Cooke, wife of Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, of New York. Like James, Hall is from Dallas.
"The most important thing about them is their spirit that they all share, and that they, they know what to do, and they plan so meticulously so that they can carry out the adventures that they have done all over the world," Hall's sister said.
An attempt to use small, unmanned planes carrying cameras that can detect body heat was stymied Thursday when lenses fogged up because of precipitation, but more were sent in by Sno-Cat 9 miles to the inn Thursday afternoon. Bernard said the drones were to fly again Friday.
The flights reached about 6,500 feet, said John Blitch, leader of the Colorado nonprofit group Aracar, which provided the planes. The planes will be kept outside to acclimatize them for a later attempt, he said.
Two search teams were out on the slopes Thursday. One team made it to a shelter on Cooper Spur at about the 7,500-foot level, according to sheriff's Sgt. Gerry Tiffany.
He said the weather outlook for the search on Friday was "very poor" with extreme avalanche danger. Winds of 100 to 140 mph were expected on the mountain, along with up to 18 inches of snow, followed by a sharp temperature drop, Tiffany said.