New Storm Approaching, Two Climbers Still Missing - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/19/06-Mt. Hood, OR

New Storm Approaching, Two Climbers Still Missing

With hope fading and a new snowstorm approaching, rescuers focused Tuesday on a small area of Mount Hood, looking for new clues that might lead them to two stranded climbers.

The body of a third climber, Kelly James, was removed from the 11,239-foot mountain Monday night.

Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler said Tuesday that a camera was recovered along with James' body, and the pictures it contained were proving very valuable to investigators.

But the pictures also were cause for concern, he said. "After developing those pictures, looking what they had with them, I'm pretty concerned about how long somebody can last out there."

He said the climbers were "lightly equipped but well equipped."

The pictures, which started with "three happy guys" getting ready for their climb, also showed the climbers' progress, he said.

"The pictures are telling us they were at a certain place at a certain time, that they were on the gully route to the summit at a certain time of day -- we can tell all that by what the pictures look like."

The plan Tuesday called for fixed-wing aircraft to fly over the area looking for clues, or better yet, the missing climbers: Brian Hall, 37, of Dallas, Texas, and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, 36, of Brooklyn, New York.

"We're still looking for those little clues so that we can make plans to move ground teams into certain areas if we need to, and also maintain the opportunity for Brian and Nikko to stick their head up out of that hole up there someplace and self-rescue themselves, and we want to be there to see that if that happens," Wampler said.

Early Tuesday, ground search teams were standing by, waiting for assignments based on what was spotted from the aircraft.

Wampler also was preparing to send an avalanche team, made up of experts at probing deep snow on the mountainside.

"There is a chance that these guys, instead of falling -- which is one scenario -- they've been covered up by snow, that they have crawled into a crag or a crack to get out of the wind, and stuff has come on top of them, and they're still there waiting for us to come get them," Wampler said.

Weather was a major concern, with a new storm expected to hit the area around midday Wednesday.

"It's going to put us on hold, literally, for a while," Wampler said. "So that's why we'll keep flying, we'll keep people up there. We're going to try to get this avalanche thing in place and done before that moisture gets here."

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said the storm was expected to hit Mount Hood about 2 p.m. Wednesday (5 p.m. ET), bringing rain at lower elevations, icing between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, and snow above that.

The search area had been narrowed to an area between the snow cave where James' body was found and an area directly below.

James had called his family from the snow cave on December 10, explaining that his two climbing companions had left him to get help. The three had begun their trek two days earlier.

His body was found Sunday. James had suffered a dislocated shoulder, said Wampler.

Tracks found in the snow offered another clue. Wampler said mountain climbers normally walk in each other's tracks.

"There's basically 20 guys making one track to the top," he said. "Well, we've got some strange tracks that tell us that two people at least were walking side by side, which may indicate one guy was trying to help another."

The Hood River County Sheriff's Office estimates it spent roughly $5,000 a day for the first three days and about $6,500 a day after that, The Associated Press reported. But that's only part of what will be become the final price tag, the AP said.

Asked whether his optimism is fading, Wampler said, "Realistically, hope and optimism is based on fact. How long can somebody survive out in this environment, based on their experience, what they're able to do, and take care of themselves?

"We are approaching that time when we've got to make some serious considerations whether we're spinning our wheels or not."

"The big search probably is over -- the look-everywhere-we-possibly-can," Wampler said. "Because I think we did that, I think we've done a pretty good job."

But, he said, "This office is not going to give up until somebody tells me the risk of doing this thing outweighs the results."

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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