Helicopter able to join search as weather clears on Mount Hood

MOUNT HOOD, Ore. - Bring on the helicopters.

After being socked in until late afternoon, a rescue helicopter from the Oregon Army National Guard finally launched on Thursday to find a climber on Mount Hood who has been missing for six days. Rescue workers are now executing an aggressive plan to step up their search as the weather clears.

Kinley Adams, a 59-year-old dentist from Salem, was supposed to return from his climb at 3 p.m. Saturday. His wife alerted police several hours later that the experienced climber hadn't yet contacted her.

Rescue efforts had been significantly hampered by poor weather, but conditions finally improved Thursday afternoon. Poor conditions earlier in the day frustrated searchers.

"It's discouraging because we're just sitting around and waiting," Sgt. Robert Wurpes with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said around noon.

A military para-rescue jumper on the mountain told search commanders that as of noon, visibility at higher elevations was only around 50 feet. By later in the day it cleared up enough to launch the MH-60M Black Hawk equipped to pull someone off the mountain.

Rescuers also have a CH-47 Chinook helicopter capable of dropping off rescuers at the top of the mountain. That helicopter will be in service on Friday morning. It will pick up para-rescuers from the 304th Air Force Reserve at 9 a.m. at Welches Elementary. It will fly to the summit or as close to it as possible and drop off the para-rescuers. They will then start a search down the mountain.

Black Hawk crews will meet at 8 p.m. and beginning flying at about 10 a.m.

Crews are also keeping a close eye on the snow. As the weather warms, the risk of avalanches grows.

Wurpes said he's optimistic Adams is still alive, and said there are plans in place to continue the search through at least the weekend.

"They've been very open about everything that's been going on," said Brock Adams, Kinley's son. "We trust them. Luckily we know a lot of these people so if they think there's a reason to be out, they'll be out, I'm sure."

In particular, rescuers and Adams' family are encouraged by the recent rescue of Mary Owen, who spent six days on the mountain before being found alive.

"Mr. Adams has much more experience and much better equipment (than Owen did)," Wurpes said.

Adams might have found himself in this predicament thanks to a simple packing error. His wife said he'd also been preparing for an expedition to Nepal, and mistakenly placed his locator beacon in the pack he intended to take on that trip.

Wurpes said organizers have placed calls for help all over the region, and "we have all kinds of assets."