American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow and Into Crevasse, Failure to Follow Route, Climbing Unroped, Inexperience, Oregon, Mt. Hood

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981


Oregon, Mt. Hood

On May 19, 1980, about 6:30 p.m., I was called from the 304th Air Force Reserve by Parachute Medic Harder. (Parachute Medics will be referred to as PJs.) Harder stated that a climber had fallen into a crevasse on Eliot Glacier and that two helicopters were going to search for him. (Later it was learned that the fall was into Newton Clark Glacier.) The Mt. St. Helens eruption had exhausted many PJs, so four Crag Rats were requested to stand by at Hood River airport. At 6:50 p.m., a helicopter designated Save 80 lifted off to begin the search. Helicopter Save 79 took off at 7:25 p.m. Save 80 went directly to the search area but observed nothing. Save 78 was also unsuccessful in its search.

Three PJs and four Crag Rats were lifted to Cloud Cap to spend the night with the survivor, Mark Stier. Save 80 returned to base at 9:10 p.m. and Save 78 at 9:25 p.m. At the base, it had been decided to mount a search early on May 20.

On May 20, helicopter designated Save 32 arrived at the search area at 6:35 a.m.; it searched for the victim and for a landing spot until 7 a.m. Save 32 then landed at Cloud Cap and Crew Chief Don Schaeffer began taking out the winch and removing everything in order to lighten the aircraft. At 7:45 a.m., Save 32 with pilots and PJs Binger and Ward and Crag Rat Brian Hukari took off for the high landing point on the south side of Newton Clark Glacier. At 8:05 a.m., Save 32 returned to pick up PJ Weaver and Crag Rats Bruce Hukari, Mike Udelius, and Wells. Because of high winds, this group was let off at lower elevation on the north side of Newton Clark Glacier. About 20 minutes after leaving the aircraft, Hukari was struck in the knee by a large rock but continued the search.

At this point, I will give the survivor’s story of the events leading up to the accident. Stier said that as they had overslept on Sunday and had watched the Mt. St. Helens eruption, they decided to climb on Monday, May 19. The climb up the Sunshine route was uneventful. Once on the summit, however, they were not sure of the route down and traveled down the summit ridge on the Wy’east route rather than the Cooper Spur route, which had been their intention. A snow finger leading into Newton Clark Glacier looked like a good route, so they headed down a never-climbed route which steepens to 90°. Because the snow was sticking to their crampons, they took them off. They were not roped and both pairs of crampons were on Tom Hanstedt’s pack. Hanstedt was plunge stepping down the steepening pitch and carrying his ice ax across his body in preparation for a self-arrest. He slipped and immediately went into a self-arrest, which did absolutely nothing to slow his fall in the soft snow. Stier saw him disappear over a cliff. Stier down climbed the cliff, about 30 vertical feet, and found Hanstedt’s ice ax at the bottom. Stier spent some time searching and calling for his friend but to no avail. Finally Stier returned to Cloud Cap where a hiker agreed to go to Cooper Spur junction and sound the alarm.

I return now to the search. Things were rather quite until 11:15 a.m. when I received a message from the first party that they beleived they had spotted Hanstedt. At 12:15 p.m. they advised me that it was not Hanstedt but his pack that they had found. The waist strap was torn off the pack and both shoulder straps were broken. In the jacket inside the pac, was a plastic jar full of peanut butter that had been crushed into many small pieces. There was a large crevasse below the high party. There was nothing between the ice ax (which is still there) and the pack. The upper group asked the lower group to check the large crevasse below them. Before the lower group could look into the crevasse, a section of the upper lip of the crevasse, estimated to be 80 feet long and 10 feet thick, crashed into the area to be searched. The rock fall was constant and deadly. Udelius jumped into a crevasse to avoid an avalanche. The tracks of the entire party were wiped out by an avalanche seconds after they had gone by. At 3:15 p.m., the group requested helicopter pickup; by 4:15 p.m., the entire group was back at Cloud Cap. The belief of the searchers was that Hanstedt’s body was under tons of ice and that only the loss of searchers would result from additional searching. This information was conveyed to the sheriff and permission to terminate the search was given at 5:30 p.m. (Source: Bill Bryan, AAC member, Portland, Oregon)


Hanstedt’s climbing experience consisted of a south side climb on Mt. Hood and an ice climbing school. Stier had no previous experience on any high mountain. (Source: Bill Bryan, AAC member, Portland, Oregon)

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