WEATHER, EXPOSURE, EXCEEDING ABILITIES
Washington, Mount Rainier
During the week of March 19-23, 1989, a ten-person Special Forces Unit of the U.S. Army climbed from Paradise to the Camp Muir area and back for the purposes of testing equipment and men in a winter mountaineering and survival environment. Three members were sent back to Paradise at 1200 on March 21 because two of them, SSGT Bronn (28) and SFC Taylor (36) , were suffering from various degrees of hypothermia, frostbite, and fatigue. SFC Martinez, a medic, was assigned to look after them. The party encountered blizzard conditions and a near white-out. Progress was very slow, with two men on skis and the third on snowshoes. For reasons unexplained, some of the equipment that would have assisted with navigation down the snowfield was given to a member of the seven-person unit continuing to Camp Muir. The three became disoriented and descended Paradise Glacier instead of Muir Snowfield.
The group of three encountered continued severe weather the next day. Despite the danger of travel on glaciated terrain, they chose not to rope together. In fact, they traveled closely bunched together in order not to get separated from each other.
At 2200 they stopped for an extended period to melt snow for water, soup, etc. They did not set up a tent or dig a snow cave to spend the rest of the night, choosing instead to continue walking slowly. They were not able to return to Paradise on either the 21st, as expected, or the 22nd.
The evening of March 22 and the morning of the 23rd plans were made and teams organized to search for the overdue party. Just as three park rangers and 15 volunteer Seattle and Tacoma Mountain Rescue people were about to initiate a ground search, the three soldiers arrived back at Paradise at 0500. Bronn was later treated for second degree frostbite to his lower back and toes and Taylor for a back injury. The remainder of the Special Forces Unit successfully descended from Camp Muir to Paradise in clear weather without further incident, although two individuals were reported suffering from some degree of frostbite. (Source: George Sainsbury)
We concluded that the personnel on the training mission had flunked navigation, passed survival, and flunked communication. (Source: George Sainsbury, Paul Williams, Seattle Mountain Rescue Council)