ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 30, 2012
GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. -- May 30, 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of one of the worst climbing and rescue disasters ever on Mt. Hood.
Three climbers died that day on Mt. Hood. But the toll could have been even higher. While trying to peform a high-altitude rescue of the climbers, an Air Force Pavehawk helicopter fell from the sky and tumbled 1,000 feet down the side of the mountain, ejecting its crew and sending parts flying as it rolled over and over.
"Does not seem like it's been 10 years," said Major Chris Bernard, who was aboard an Air Force reserve helicopter that flew in to help after the disaster. "It's one of those memorable events that seem like yesterday."
It began around 9 a.m. when a 911 call came in from the mountain. Nine climbers had fallen into a deep crevasse. Three were dead. They included William Ward and Richard Read from Forest Grove, along with John Biggs from Windsor, California. Four others were critically injured and needed to be airlifted if possible.
Rescue teams on the ground raced toward the mountain and made their way to the fallen climbers. Other climbers already on the mountain stopped to help as well.
Shortly after noon an Oregon Army National Guard helicopter arrived and lifted the first two patients off the mountain.
Just before 2 p.m., an Air Force Pavehawk helicopter carrying a para-rescue crew flew up to the crevasse and prepared to lift the third patient. Suddenly as it hovered above the crevasse, the wind shifted from the front of the helicopter to the back. Pilot Grant Dysle had no extra power and was only able to fly away from the climbers before crashing on the mountain.
Flight engineer Martin Mills cut the hoist cable connected from the helicopter to the injured climber, Jeremiah Moffitt. The move saved Moffitts s life.
Newschannel 8 carried the rescue effort live and broadcast the crash as it happened. The Pavehawk rolled eight times down the mountain, tossing two from the crew inside. Crew member Andrew Canfield was thrown out an open door.
"When I got ejected from the helicopter I felt like, 'Oh thank God I'm free of the helicopter, I'm gonna be okay.' And then, just an instant after that I realized that I was downhill from the helicopter and it was overtaking me," Canfield said.
The helicopter rolled over the top of Canfield, but the unusually soft snow allowed him to sink under it without being crushed.
Mills, the engineer, was strapped by his safety tether to the outside of the helicopter as it rolled. He was rolled over at least twice before the tether broke.
Incredibly, no one died as a result of the crash. Later, the second Pavehawk airlifted the injured Air Force crew off the mountain. Two Oregon National Guard helicopters lifted off the remaining two injured climbers.
Two of the three bodies of the climbers were recovered that day. The third was taken down the mountain the next day.