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One climber found dead; two remain missing on mountain

Story Highlights

• One climber found dead in snow cave on Mount Hood late Sunday evening
• Authorities trying to medically identify the deceased man
Three experienced climbers went missing nine days ago
• Favorable weather predicted for Monday as search for other climbers goes on
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HOOD RIVER, Oregon (CNN) -- One of three climbers missing for more than a week on Mount Hood was found dead Sunday, but authorities said they still hoped to find his companions alive.

"We continue to proceed with this as a rescue for the two remaining climbers," Oregon National Guard Capt. Mike Braibish told reporters.

The body was found inside the second of two snow caves rescuers searched Sunday afternoon, and will not be brought down from the mountain for identification until Monday, Braibish said. (Watch the announcement that one climber was found dead Video)

"I can't even begin to imagine the grief of losing somebody but not knowing who it is," he said. "We're going to find out as soon as possible, and we're going to let those families know. They deserve that."

The caves are in the same area where officials pinpointed a cell phone signal a week ago, when climber Kelly James, 48, of Dallas, Texas, told his family that he was holed up on the mountain.

James also told his family that the other climbers -- Brian Hall, 37, of Dallas; and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, 36, of Brooklyn, New York -- had gone on.

Two ice axes, a sleeping bag and rope were recovered from the first snow cave, on the northwest side of the mountain, Hood River Sheriff's Department spokesman Gerry Tiffany said.

Climbers construct snow caves for insulation and protection from wind.

Outside the first cave, dug into the snow, was the letter "Y" -- a code used to indicate a climber's location.

Searchers also discovered a fading trail of two sets of footprints.

One set led toward the summit, where they vanished in the wind; the other led downward in what appeared to be an aimless circle, Tiffany said.

The three men began their climb December 8.

Rescue efforts by climbing teams were suspended late Sunday afternoon. But search coordinator Bill Pattison said crews would pore over what they found for guidance on where to look Monday, when good weather was expected to hold.

The search continues

Though it is possible the first cave searched was built by someone else, "you have to assume it was Kelly James' snow cave," Tiffany said.

Rescue teams started up the mountain on the north and south sides at about 6 a.m. (9 a.m. ET), and the climbers on the south side reached the summit by 10 a.m. (1 p.m. ET). (Watch rescuers talk about what they saw Video)

Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane from Nevada will continue searching around the clock in 12-hour shifts, Sgt. Sean Collinson of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said.

The C-130 has infrared imaging equipment that can sense body heat.

The U.S. Forest Service closed Mount Hood above the Timberline Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail to everyone except search-and-rescue teams.

All but rescue aircraft are banned within a three-mile radius of the mountain.

Dwight Hall, whose son Brian Hall is among the missing climbers, told reporters that family members were on "a roller coaster of emotions."

"Keep in mind that today is only the second day of conditions favorable for a full-scale search-and-rescue effort," he said, adding the time had been well spent even when weather conditions were difficult.

"It's all been progress," he said. "At times it's been frustrating. The dedication of the people out there tackling this effort in these conditions is unparalleled."

Hall added that the families were confident in the abilities of the lost climbers.

"These men are fully capable both mentally and physically to cope with the situation that they find themselves in, and to continue to cope with it and adjust as the situation evolves.

"We have full confidence in them. ... That's what's been able to sustain us."

Favorable weather is predicted for Monday.

"Weather is going to be a factor," Tiffany told CNN Sunday afternoon. "If it starts getting really windy again, it's going to be a problem."

"Yesterday was a positive day," said Capt. Chris Bernard of the 304th Rescue Squadron. "We brought some significant data that we analyzed and has narrowed the scope of our search area."

CNN Correspondent Dan Simon contributed to this report.


Rescuers search on Mt. Hood Sunday where one of the three missing climbers was found dead in a snow cave.



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