Portland pararescuers recover lost skier on Mount Hood

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chris Bernard
  • 304th Rescue Squadron Public Affairs
Air Force Reservists from the 304th Rescue Squadron joined forces with local volunteer search and rescue organizations to rescue a lost skier who called 911 after getting lost on Mount Hood, a popular wilderness recreation area 40 miles east of Portland.

The call for assistance came in the early evening from the Clackamas County Sherriff's office requesting help to locate the missing skier who originally called for help around 2 p.m. after he realized he was lost and in danger.

Christian Houck, 51, reported that he was skiing on the Palmer Glacier above Timberline Lodge around 7,500 feet elevation and became disorientated when he tried to return to the lodge. After several hours lost, he became tired, wet, and cold and knew he needed assistance. CCSO was able to pinpoint his general location based on his cell phone signal.

CCSO recognized he had become turned around in a hazardous avalanche area on the remote west side of the mountain. With little cell phone battery power remaining and darkness approaching, CCSO advised him to dig a snow cave for shelter and mark his location to assist a rescue team in finding him.

The 304th RQS deployed a five-person Guardian Angel search and rescue team by ground which linked up with local volunteer search and rescue organizations to locate and recover the Houck.

Initially, the rescue team planned to reach the skier and return him to safety that evening, but were turned around by reports of impassable streams and extreme avalanche danger.

The team reorganized their plan and decided due to the hazards to reattempt at first light. Tech Sgt. Joshua Kruse, 304th team member said, " I have a fair amount of alpine back country experience and I think the outcome would have been far worse had Mr. Houck tried to make it out that evening instead of remaining in his snow cave."

A Hood River County Sheriff spotter aircraft assisted in the search in the morning and actually found Houck by following his ski tracks leading out from the snow cave. The 304th made positive contact with Houck at around 11 a.m. Senior Airman Austin Sanders, 304th Team member, said, "This was my first high altitude technical rescue and after navigating over some of the same terrain as Me Houck, I was surprised he made it through un-injured and in a medically stable condition." The team escorted him to the nearby Timberline Lodge area and evaluated that he required no medical treatment.

Guardian Angel Airmen have advanced mountain rescue and medical capabilities. They are experts at operating in high alpine terrain.

According to the 304th, Houck was very lucky considering the hazardous terrain he passed through while he was lost but fortunately he had the proper equipment and skills to build and stay in a snow cave overnight.

The Guardian Angels are highly trained rescue specialists consisting of pararescuemen, combat rescue officers and search, evasion resistance escape professionals whose scope and ability goes beyond U.S. borders to the most remote and challenging of combat environments, such as Afghanistan, to conduct combat search and rescues for U.S. and allied forces.

The 304th RQS is based at the Portland International airport and is a geographically separated unit of the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. They are the only members of the military trained to conduct full-spectrum personnel recovery. They can do everything from parachute from planes to find downed fighter pilots on cliffs where helicopters cannot land, to providing advanced trauma care to those wounded in combat.