Mission 04-01
Airplane Crash, Three Fingered Jack

by Bob Freund


Member hours: 203       Participants: Clunes, Crawford, Freund, Lee, Lyall, Morris, Sears, Wood, J. Linn
On Sunday, March 28th, a Cessna 182 with three people onboard was flying in the vicinity of Three- Fingered Jack when the aircraft appears to have come over the SW spur and “lawn-darted” into the west face scree field about 50 feet north of the climber’s trail near the bottom of the scree. The next day, a Civil Air Patrol plane spotted the crash and a National Guard helicopter dropped a medic who confirmed that all three were deceased.

CMRU was put on Stand-by for a possible recovery mission on Monday, March 29th and was activated later that afternoon. We staged at Santiam Sno-Park on Tuesday morning to attempt to reach the crash site on the ground. It would be about 4 miles over snow. Snowmobiles and Argo’s were used by other teams to carry heavy extrication equipment. CMRU went in on skis and ESAR used snowshoes. The weather was unsettled with a freezing level near 6,500 feet early which eventually dropped to 3,000 ft.

Three akja’s were pulled in (1 by CMRU and 2 by ESAR) over the snow. The over-snow machines were only able to get in about 2 miles before getting bogged down. ESAR made it about 3 miles in. CMRU made it to the crash site and took photographs before being recalled. The CMRU team arrived back in basecamp at dusk. Based on information from CMRU, a plan was formulated to fly in on Wednesday if the weather improved.

On Wednesday, March 31st, the weather was perfect for flying and the National Guard provided two H-60 helicopters – 1 configured for personnel and 1 for equipment. The parking lot at nearby Hoodoo Ski Area was used as a helibase. A ground team of eight (3 from CMRU, 2 from Camp Sherman Hasty Team, and 3 Linn County personnel) was flown into a landing zone (LZ) just above and south of the crash site. Two more personnel were hoisted down with equipment. We arrived on scene at 1130. Linn County completed their investigation shortly after noon and the subjects were extricated from the aircraft by 1330. They were packaged and brought to the bottom of the climber’s trail to be made ready for hoisting into the “equipment” helicopter. The ground team was then loaded into the “personnel” helicopter at the “upper LZ” while equipment was hoisted out from the lower LZ. The extractions were completed shortly after 1400 -- just as the weather was beginning to deteriorate. If bad weather had prevented a helicopter extraction, all ground personnel were equipped with snowshoes in order to walk out.

For this mission, Linn County brought their big, new Mobile Communications Center vehicle to use as a command post. Besides good radio communication, it provided full-time data via a satellite link which allowed incident logging using the county’s computer aided dispatch (CAD) system and Internet connection (for weather info – and to see what the news outlets were saying about the mission). Through the CAD system, the sheriff could monitor in his office in Albany what was being logged at Santiam Sno-Park! Very impressive.

Although the March field training (a mock mission) was cancelled due to low turn-out, this mission had very good support from the Unit. Also, this mission gave us an opportunity to work with Camp Sherman Hasty Team and other Linn County assets. It also showed the wisdom is having a diversity of assets all working in a coordinated manner. When the Argo’s developed mechanical problems, the snowmobiles were able to assist. Having ground personnel on skis allowed them to move quickly to setup a route and waypoints, while having personnel on snowshoes allowed them to drag the akja’s (oversnow sleds) in toward the crash site. As with all missions, there were lessons learned (and re-learned).

For photos and text by Iain Morris, click here.

Link to article in CorvallisGazette-Times.