HOOD RIVER, Ore. – The body of one of the three climbers who have been missing for 10 days on Mount Hood was discovered in a snow cave late Sunday afternoon.
Rescuers dropped search teams near the mountain's 11,239-foot summit from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter flown by pilots who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The pararescue team members scaled 300 feet down the nearly vertical face of the northeastern face of the mountain to reach a snow cave that was spotted from the air early Sunday.
Inside the cave, teams discovered two ice axes, some rope and a sleeping bag. The body was discovered in a second cave nearby. Officials said that family members have been notified, but declined to identify the deceased.
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Rescue teams were pulled off the mountain early in the evening and officials said operations would resume in the morning. Temperatures have reached 18 degrees below zero near the summit at nighttime and rescuers say that the extreme cold combined with darkness makes it too hazardous continue the search for the other climbers.
"We remain hopeful," said Capt. Mike Braibish, spokesman for the Oregon National Guard. "We are going to still collect information and pursue the rescue of the two other climbers."
The daring rescue operation began when a helicopter spotted a Y-shaped rope formation in the snow early Sunday, Hood River Detective Sergeant Gerry Tiffany said. Rescuers say climbers sometimes use that formation to signify, "Yes, we're here." Teams also saw an ice spike and coil of rope.
There has been no word from climbers Kelly James, Brian Hall or Jerry "Nikko" Cooke since Dec. 10 when James made a distress call to family members. A cell phone tower picked up a signal from James' cell phone on Tuesday that appeared to have originated from the vicinity of the snow cave.
Weather conditions have been harsh since the three were reporting missing eight days ago, with heavy snow fall and wind gusts of up to 100 mph. The snow stopped Saturday, but wind up to 50 mph blew the fresh snow, hampering visibility.
Dwight Hall, father of missing climber Brian Hall, told reporters on Sunday that relatives of the missing mountaineers are going through a "roller coaster of emotions." He gulped back tears as he thanked rescuers for their efforts, and added "there's no reason to have anything less than high optimism for a successful outcome."
At the airport, friends and family members of the missing climbers put their hands on one of two Blackhawk helicopters preparing to join the search and prayed. Frank James, brother of Kelly James, said of the helicopter pilots: "We're the cheerleaders for these guys."
The Associated Press contributed to the report.