GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. -- May 30th, 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of one of the worst climbing and rescue disasters ever on Mt. Hood. The years have passed quickly for many involved.
Three climbers died that day on Mt. Hood. But the toll could have been even higher. Few who remember that day will forget the sight of a rescue helicopter tumbling down the side of the mountain, ejecting crew and sending parts flying as it rolled over and over.
“Does not seem like its been ten years,” said Major Chris Bernard who was aboard an Air Force reserve helicopter that flew in to help after the disaster. Its something he’ll never forget. “Its one of those memorable events that seem like yesterday,” Major Bernard said.
It began around 9am 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 with a para-rescue crew, called PJ’s, in the back, 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 8 times down the mountain tossing two from the crew inside. PJ 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 that, just an instant after that I realized that I was downhill from the helicopter and it was over taking me," Canfield said. The helicopter rolled over the top of Canfield, but he unusually soft snow allowed him to sink under it without being crushed.
Mills, the engineer, was trapped by his safety tether to the outside of the helicopter as it rolled. He was rolled over at least twice before 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.