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Copter crashes during Mount Hood rescue

An injured crewman from the rescue helicopter arrives at the hospital.
An injured crewman from the rescue helicopter arrives at the hospital.  

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Oregon (CNN) -- A military helicopter crashed while attempting to rescue climbers who fell into a crevasse on Mount Hood -- a rescue operation that one official said went "from bad to worse."

Nine climbers making their way to Mount Hood's 11,237-foot (3,408-meter) summit as part of a larger group fell into the crevasse Thursday morning. Three were killed, and another three were critically injured.

Rescue helicopters evacuated two of the injured hikers early on. But as the military rescue chopper was attempting to reach the rest, it crashed and tumbled down the mountain, critically injuring at least one of the five crew members aboard, authorities said.

All those injured on the mountain were pulled to safety, officials said.

The bodies of the dead hikers also were being retrieved, with that process expected to be completed on Friday.

Virginia Slutter, the mother of one of the injured climbers, was grateful her son was rescued.

"We're lucky he's alive," she said.

Harry Slutter, 43, a married father of two sons from New York City, was one of nine hikers on the mountain to fall into the crevasse.

A KGW reporter witnesses a helicopter crash during a rescue attempt atop Oregon's Mount Hood (May 30)

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Photo sequence of the helicopter crash 
HH-60G Pave Hawk description 

Slutter was being treated for a broken jaw and lacerations at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital in Portland.

"He was banged up, but he's in the hospital. We're very thankful for that," she said.

The Air Force Reserve Pave Hawk helicopter was attempting to rescue the remaining four fallen climbers when, as it hovered near a mountain ridge, slowly twirled out of control and crashed onto the snow-covered slope.

The rotor blades broke apart and the chopper rolled over several times. As it tumbled down the mountainside, the chopper rolled over one crew member who had been ejected from it.

"I don't know what exactly caused that helicopter to crash," said Angie Blanchard, a spokeswoman with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, adding that there were no reports of bad weather at the time.

She said the accident underscored the danger rescue workers put themselves in every day.

"It did go from bad to worse," she said. "We're here trying to help people, and unfortunately the rescuers became the rescuees. We're just hoping that they're going to be OK."

The rescuers are from the U.S. Air Force Reserve's 939th Rescue Wing based in Portland, a unit that often participates in Mount Hood rescues.

Rescuer Lt. Chris Bernard said rescue crews were having difficulty maneuvering the helicopters because of the high altitude.

"The problem is the altitude. It's difficult to get in at that high altitude. It's very thin air," he said.

The group of climbers was just 800 feet from Mount Hood's summit when they fell, Capt. Jamie Karn said. Karn said weather conditions at the time of the climbing accident were "absolutely beautiful -- a clear, sunny day."

Ten of the 11 injured in the crevasse accident and chopper crash were flown via helicopter to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, according to a statement from the hospital.

The first two, who arrived before the helicopter accident, were:

  • Christopher Kern, 40, from Long Island, New York, who was in serious condition with a broken pelvis, shoulder, leg and wrist. In addition, he was being evaluated for hypothermia, hospital spokeswoman Lise Harwin said.
  • Thomas Hillman, 45, from northwest California, who was in serious condition with a head injury and multiple contusions. He was also being evaluated for hypothermia, Harwin said.
  • Eight people who arrived after the accident included:

  • Jeremiah Moffitt, 26, with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.
  • Andrew Canfield, 28, a military rescuer.
  • Martin Mills, 36, a military rescuer, who was listed in serious condition with a broken wrist, a possible broken leg and internal injuries.
  • An unidentified 43-year-old male member of the military with unspecified injuries.
  • Four additional patients connected with the mountain accident, not identified, who were being evaluated by hospital personnel.
  • Government Camp is about 50 miles east of Portland, in the Cascade Mountains.

    Last week, an Argentinean snowboarder on Mount Hood was killed after he slid off a glacier trying to go down the wrong side of the mountain.

    The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Mount Hood National Forest, limits the size of each hiking group to 12. It recommends climbing mid-week to enhance the opportunity for solitude on Mount Hood, an inactive volcano.

    The safest season to climb the mountain is between May and mid-July, according to the Forest Service, which recommends climbers minimize exposure to crevasses, avalanches, and rockfall and icefall.

    The reason the helicopter crashed was unclear. The Pave Hawk is especially suited to extreme conditions and is used by the Air Force mainly for recovery and rescue.

    The Pave Hawk's primary mission is to conduct day or night operations into hostile environments to recover downed personnel during war, according to the Air Force. Its versatility makes the Pave Hawk suited to other tasks like civil search and rescue, emergency medical evacuation, disaster relief, and NASA space shuttle support.

    A highly modified version of the Army Black Hawk helicopter, the Pave Hawk features upgraded communications and navigation systems. Pave Hawks are suited with color weather radar and an engine/rotor blade anti-ice system, giving them an all-weather capability.

    Its equipment also includes a personnel locating system that provides range and bearing information to a survivor's location.


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