December 18th, 2006 03:59 EST
Oregon, Nevada Reservists join search for missing climbers
PORTLAND, Ore. (AFPN) -- Reservists from the 304th Rescue Squadron here will team up again Dec. 17 with Air National Guardsmen from Nevada in hopes of finding three missing hikers lost on Mt. Hood more than a week ago.
"This was our first opportunity to see the top of the mountain because of the poor weather and extreme conditions," said Capt. Ross Willson, a combat rescue officer assigned to the Air Force Reserve's 304th RQS. "Although we didn't find the hikers, we were able to get all of our assets out and actually see what was going on at various points on the mountain."
The 304th RQS had almost a dozen pararescue specialists on the mountain battling what they termed "extreme" conditions while assisting in the search.
A combat rescue officer from the unit helped the airborne assets move to specific locations where officials in charge of the operation thought the hikers might be.
"My job was to relate specific information about the mountain (to the C-130 crew) to ensure we were looking in the right places," Captain Willson said. "Unfortunately, we didn't see anything from the aircraft (that) could be described as new information. But we're going to keep pressing on with the mission. It's our job and what we do."
The climbers left Dec. 7 on what was to be a two-day trip on Mt. Hood.
Captain Willson was part of a very experienced C-130 crew that flew much of the morning and late into the afternoon looking for the climbers. The cargo plane, from the Nevada Air National Guard, is equipped with thermal imaging capability that could help find the hikers by detecting body heat. It flew just above Mt. Hood's summit, while a CH-47D and UH-60 helicopter from the Oregon Army National Guard searched at lower altitudes.
While the teams were disappointed not to have found the men, they remain focused on the task and their morale still appears strong.
"I'm still very hopeful that we'll be able to see them if they're out in the open," Maj. Allan Renwick, a C-130 pilot, said after flying over the mountain for almost five hours. "Obviously, we're encouraged by the fact that there's still a good chance of finding these guys alive. We're all hoping that happens."
by Maj. James R. Wilson
939th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs