Mt. Hood, Oregon — Our location remains at the Hood River Airport, an outcropping of mostly white metal buildings and a couple of small hangers. The fog lingers here, and like the frigid temperatures, never seems to lift.
At about 25 miles from the summit of Mt. Hood, this small town airport reminds me of many others in the northwest that I have either flown into, or visited.
There is no control tower, so pilots radio their intentions as they taxi to the lone large runway. A visual check is also an important safety feature before takeoff, and it is here at this quiet airstrip that air operations have been ongoing.
Today though, those operations are much different, the sheriff says all helicopters are in standby mode, and a couple of fixed-winged aircraft are flying only to provide an extra set of eyes in the sky.
The mood here is a bit somber. Everyone, media included, feels for these very gracious families.
The air remains a crisp bitter cold, that envelopes the roadways, fields, orchards and mountains of northern Oregon. As we await the sun to rise, the realization has began to set in; this has not officially become a recovery mission, but the hope that the final two climbers will be found alive has dwindled dramatically.
The body of Kelly James has been removed from the mountain, the operation taking much longer than anyone expected. Late yesterday afternoon, at the recovery area at 10,000 feet, irregularities in the snow lead rescuers to believe that Brian Hall and Jerry Cook may have slid 2,500 feet and then off of the glacier.
Rescuers tell me that they will be using poles and metal detectors halfway down the mountain, near the ridgeline. There, they believe they may find the climbers. Hope can still be found even during this very early and cold morning, but the optimism is nothing like we felt or saw just two days ago.
A chill went down my spine as the brother of missing climber Kelly James fought through the realization that the body found late Sunday afternoon on Mount Hood was likely his missing loved one.
Off camera, members of all three of the climbers' families stood arm-in-arm, their faces painting the sad picture of the dreadful news — that one climber had been found dead and that the other two may have fallen into an area that has taken many lives before.
They hugged and wept in each others' arms, and the wife of missing climber Jerry Cook did her best to stay strong, to stay supportive of the James family, as they dealt with the news of great loss.
The emotional swing over the course of the last 24 hours has been intense. We started Sunday with the hope that all three could be found alive. Climbing gear and a snow cave near the summit on the north side had been spotted and crew had been dropped at the 11,000-foot level, with the idea they could rappel down and hopefully rescue the three stranded men. That didn't happen, and in fact, the worst case scenario came true.
The first cave, the one seen from the air, was empty, and a second makeshift snow cave was eventually found nearby with a body inside. The clues end there, as do the trail of gear and footsteps. The search narrowed to one of the most difficult and technical locations on the mountain, and the rescuers are still hopeful. They continue to risk their own lives to try and find a new trail and ultimately, an amazing tale of survival.
Everyone remains hopeful, but reality is starting to set in.
7:28 am PT
Our water bottles freeze within an hour — a clear indication that the conditions at the base of Mount Hood are very cold. I can't imagine how tough it must be thousands of feet up the slopes, where search and rescue teams will begin their valiant efforts again today.
As one Air Force Captain tells me, the snow at 10,000 feet is like walking on styrofoam. The winds, he says, are not as tough as forecasted and not as extreme as late last week, when gusts reached 100 mph.
There are two teams working from the top of Mount Hood, one called the peak team and the other the cave team. The peak team stays at the top, uses the rope to lower the cave team down the north face, which in some places is a 65 degree angle. In some places, the mountain is sheer ice; in others, each step must be taken with extreme care because the glaciers are not yet frozen solid in some places from the winter cold. A rescuer could easily fall into a deep crevice.
The two teams' work remains dangerous and imperative as the rescue operation continues along, with the recovery of one of the missing climbers, whose body succumbed to the elements at 10,000 feet.
The ground crunches as boots take tentative steps in the hours before dawn. Rescuers are already awake and planning the attack, hours before the sun rises on Mount Hood, Ore. The hope still remains that two climbers will be found alive, after terrible news came late Sunday that one had been found dead inside a second snow cave.
The first business this morning — as soon as the sun rises over the eastern mountains — is to get the massive Chinook helicopter into the air and up to the 10,000-foot level on the north side of Mount Hood, where the body of the climber remains. Last night, it was too risky and too late to try and lift the man off the mountain. Search and rescue team members tell me that the man was frozen solid; a gruesome, yet important detail. Important because they now know they had no chance of finding him alive. It is likely that he passed away a few days ago, in the middle of blizzard-like conditions that made it impossible to search the north side of Mount Hood.
The area where the distress cell phone call was made more than one week ago, and the area where the search for the two remaining climbers, begins today.
Adam Housley joined FOX News Channel in 2001 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent. Most recently, Housley reported from Nicaragua and El Salvador on the war against drugs and scored an exclusive interview with Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega. You can read his full bio here.
Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.