Mountain searchers trace radio signals


News staff writer

February 21, 2007

The search for three missing climbers on Mount Hood on Sunday almost seemed like a case of déjà vu — with one major exception.

Hood River and Clackamas county searchers were able to quickly triangulate the whereabouts of the stranded trio. Each of the climbers was wearing a radio beacon locator so that their position at the 7,300-foot elevation of White River Canyon could be pinpointed.

“The weather conditions were just miserable and these devices made all of the difference in the outcome of this search,” said Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler.

He said the massive hunt for three missing climbers in December during a similar winter storm ended in tragedy. Wampler believes the outcome might have been different if anyone in that party had been wearing the locator device. One man was found dead and the other two men are missing and presumed dead.

“We’ve had the receiver to pick up signals from the locator units since 1994. But we’ve never taken it out of the box before this weekend because no one wants to wear them,” said Wampler.

On Tuesday, he was headed to Salem to testify on legislation that would require climbers to wear the beacons at higher elevations. Wampler said outdoor groups are opposed to a mandate that they included the equipment in their gear — but he is all for it. He said not only is the life of the climber on the line, but so are the lives of volunteer searchers.

“I think there needs to be some tweaking done to update the technology — but I’m definitely a supporter,” he said.

Christine Redl, 26, Kate Hanlon, 34, and Matt Bryant, 34, fell several hundred feet off a ledge into the White River Canyon on Sunday. They were part of an eight-member climbing team from the Portland-metro area. Their companions were escorted to safety by members of Hood River County’s Crag Rats and Portland Mountain Rescue.

Wampler provided a snow cat and snowmobiles that cut the time in half to get the three climbers and “Velvet,” a Labrador that accompanied them, off the mountain on Monday afternoon.

Redl, who sustained a possible concussion, was listed in fair condition at Oregon Health & Science University on Tuesday morning. Hanlon and Bryant were treated for minor injuries and released.

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