A Rescue on Mt. Hood? Is This "Groundhog Day"?

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Rescue on Mt. Hood? Is This "Groundhog Day"?

After daybreak this morning, rescue teams were scheduled to resume searching for three mountain climbers who fell from a ledge on Mount Hood in Oregon. If this sounds familiar, it's because this isn't the first time this has happened on Mt. Hood.

On Sunday, five other climbers were rescued from Mt. Hood. But in December, after a long search, rescuers were unable to find a party of three climbers who went missing on Mt. Hood.

How smart was it for anyone — even an experienced climber — to venture more than 8,300-feet up Mt. Hood during winter when gusting winds, bitter-cold temperatures, snow avalanches and white-out conditions magnify the existing hazards of mountain climbing? "Terrible" was the word used by the rescue teams' coordinator to describe weather conditions.

According to this Mt. Hood publication, "During winter months the climbing routes are not patrolled regularly" so there is no way to know the extent of avalanche or rockfall hazards.

A coordinator for the rescue teams told CNN, "We have teams from all over the Northwest up here. Right now there's probably 50, 75 people ready to deploy all over the mountain." Up to two feet of snow could hit that area in the next 24 hours, according to CNN, meaning the rescuers themselves could be risking their own lives.

The county sheriff's office, American Medical Response, Portland Mountain Rescue and Mountain Wave Communication Specialists are involved in the search. Some, if not all, of these agencies are taxpayer-funded.

Am I the only one who sees a bit of a disconnect here?

On the one hand, as a society, we are unwilling or unable to fund the costs of basic health insurance for all of our people — as a result, 46 million Americans currently don't have it.

On the other hand, we're willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars recruiting and outfitting search teams, purchasing expensive rescue equipment, using aircraft, etc., to try to find a handful of young people from mostly affluent families who were dumb enough to try to climb Mt. Hood in winter time.

I don't expect this to change because the brainless anchors on the morning TV programs love these kinds of stories. It's a made-for-TV moment to watch and hear Mildred Watson of Belle Chute, Oregon, be interviewed — blinking back tears as she recounts the day her son, Blake, last spoke to her before heading off to Mt. Hood.

You just don't get the same level of drama from a single mom explaining why her job doesn't offer health insurance.

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