SEATTLE (AP) — The family of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger who died while helping rescue four climbers both grieved and celebrated his life Friday, as authorities faced the grim task of recovering the body of one of their own.
Nick Hall, 33, slid more than 3,000 feet to his death Thursday as he was helping evacuate climbers from a crevasse by helicopter near the summit of the 14,411-foot mountain.
Hall, a four-year veteran of the park's climbing program, came from a family of EMTs who aided soldiers in Iraq and car crash victims in his small hometown of Patten, Maine. He was not married and had no children.
His father, Carter Hall, recalled his son as a loner when he was a child, but flourished in high school through a shared love of the wilderness.
"For good and bad, it was my influence of the outdoors," Hall told The Associated Press in a call from his Maine home, his voice breaking.
A Chinook helicopter from Joint Base Lewis-McChord removed three of the four climbers from Waco, Texas, and rangers stayed overnight with the fourth person. Poor weather complicated rescue and recovery efforts Friday, with snow falling above 10,000 feet, the level where Hall landed after the slide.
The remaining climber and four rangers started down the mountain Friday morning and should be able to walk out unaided, but park officials still hoped a helicopter would be able to pick up the woman climber and also recover Hall's body, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.
The park withheld the names of the Texas climbers until their families were notified.
They had reached the summit and were on their way down, roped together, when two women fell into the crevasse on Emmons Glacier. Two men were able to stop the group, and one of them called for help by cellphone.
Rangers and the helicopter responded to the site at the 13,700-foot level. A helicopter airlifted the three to Madigan Army Medical Center at the military base near Tacoma, where they were hospitalized in fair condition Friday, said spokesman Jay Ebbeson. Darkness and worsening weather with 40 mph winds prevented rescue of the fourth climber.
All four were battered and bruised with possible broken bones, but none of the injuries seemed life-threatening, Bacher said.
Hall had helped put three of the climbers into the helicopter when he fell about 5 p.m. Thursday. The park is investigating exactly how he fell, Bacher said, and safety was stressed at the Friday morning briefing for rangers.
"We don't want what happened to Nick to happen again," he said. "There's no urgency today; nobody's life is at risk today. Let's take it slow and make sure nobody else is hurt.
"We're a very small team and particularly the climbing team — basically 15 people under the climbing foreman," said Bacher, who also is a ranger. "And they work very close together and train close together and depend on each other for their lives and become very close."
Hall's family said they were proud of his involvement in mountain rescues.
"We sincerely hope the loss of our son will draw appropriate attention to the hazards and safety requirements and commitment to be involved in the profession and sport he so loved," Carter Hall said.
Carter Hall is a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Patten, and his older son, Aaron, served in the National Guard as an EMT in Iraq. Aaron Hall celebrated his birthday on the day his brother died on the mountain.
Nick Hall had previously worked as an avalanche forecaster at Yellowstone National Park and as an emergency medical responder for the ski patrol at Washington's Stevens Pass Ski Area, his father said.
When he spoke to him about risks, Carter Hall said, his son responded that dying by heart attack "was also a risk in life."
Hall was the second Mount Rainier National Park ranger to die this year. Margaret Anderson was fatally shot on New Year's Day as she tried to stop a man who drove through a tire-chain checkpoint at Longmire. Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was suspected in a Seattle shooting earlier that day, and his body was found the next day in the snow.
Rescuers are still looking for four other people — two climbers and two campers — who disappeared on the mountain in a January storm. "We're keeping our eyes out for them as the snow melts out," Bacher said.
About 10,000 climbers attempt to reach the summit of the volcano about 85 miles southeast of Seattle each year and about half make it, he said.
Dininny contributed to this story from Yakima, Wash.