American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Washington, Southern Olympics

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1963

Washington, Southern Olympics. On Saturday morning, November 10th, a routine problem was being conducted by F-102 fighter planes from Paine Air Force Base. Fighter #2, flown by Captain Robert Lucas, was observing #1 from a slightly higher elevation and was not on a radar fix. At last radio contact, over Port Angeles, everything was OK. At projected point of intercept with #3, near Forks, it was noted that #2 was missing, and the search was triggered. Mountain Rescue units were called at 2:30 P.M. by McChord Air Force Base, which had been assigned assistant coordination responsibility to Paine AFB by Hamilton AFB, the Northwestern sector Search Headquarters.

Olympic MRC (Bremerton) was assigned ground search responsibility, and was assisted by teams from Tacoma MRC, Seattle MRC, Paine Field Search and Rescue, Olympic Area Council BSA Explorer Lowland Search and Rescue, Chief Seattle BSA Explorer Lowland Search and Rescue, Sand Point NAS Search and Rescue, the Web Footers (a jeep club from Tacoma equipped with two-way radios), Army ground search teams, Civil Air Patrol, and CAP Cadets.

Radio sounds coming from near the flight path could have come from a handi-talkie carried in the pilot’s survival pack. These signals were repeatedly picked up by low-flying aircraft and helicopters searching in very marginal weather. The operational base was established at Mason County Airport near Shelton and initial teams were sent to cover four adjacent alpine trails. Two other teams were dropped on summits by helicopters and made sweeps to a road. The Explorer Scouts, 100 Army personnel, and Paine Field S&R grid searched an additional area.

By Sunday afternoon numerous reports were coming in from hunters and loggers of low-flying aircraft, loud noises, and strange colorings in various areas. Each of these was meticulously checked out. Two radio relay trucks were stationed at key points to expedite ground-to-ground- to-air communications, and a specially designed ten element Gamma- match antennae was erected at base. Radios at base and in the relay trucks were able to operate on the aircraft frequency, the MRA frequency, and the Sheriff’s frequency.

The weather continued to deteriorate, and some teams encountered as much as 2½ feet of fresh snow. By Wednesday all teams had returned, but reports continued to flow in from all sides, and the search effort spread out into different areas. The FCC moved special radio directional equipment into the field, and by the following Saturday extensive ground parties and jeep teams were again out. On Sunday, November 18, the search was suspended for more favorable weather. As of this date, the crash has not been located.

Statistics: 1050 flight hours in 16 helicopters and 8 airplanes by Army, Navy, Air Force, and CAP pilots. 682 man-days of ground search by Army, jeep club, CAP and Cadets, Explorer Scouts, and five Mountain Rescue units at elevations ranging from 700 to 7,500 feet and including rocky, snow-covered, iced, and heavily timbered terrain. Radio: 19 sets, including 10 portables on MRA frequency, 6 sets on a jeep club frequency, and three other ground sets.

Source: Glenn Kelsey, Olympic Mountain Rescue Council Operational Leader.

Analysis: This report is included because it gives some indication of the scope and complexity of some alpine rescue operations. All involved agree that the outstanding factor in this complex search was the excellence of communications at all times. Chief lesson is that facilities for radio repair and maintenance must be available at base of operations in lengthy searches. When operating over hundreds of miles of roads in wilderness areas, delivery of gasoline and other supplies must be provided and key roads must be marked. Time allowed for specific missions should not be underestimated when faced with adverse conditions. Non-climbing communications experts stationed on high points should be provided with mountaineers to observe alpine areas and interpret technical climbing language. Cooperation with the Armed Forces in searches of this nature is reciprocated by such prompt support as that provided in the Banner Peak operation.

Important points selected from rescue operations not published:

In some types of terrain it is valuable to have a field coordinator observe the search from the air.

Mineral deposits sometimes create compass deviations.

In one case a lost person was found in the trunk of his car–don’t overlook any possibility.

Rescue Operations Committee – 1962

George R. Sainsbury, Chairman

Seattle, Washington



Ezra A. “Arnie” Campbell 

Seattle, Washington



Richard R. Pooley 

Portland, Oregon



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