Authorities: Unlikely Climbers are Alive

Teri Preiss, right, aunt to missing climber Anthony Vietti, is hugged by Portland Mountain Rescue team leader Steve Rollins with cloud-covered Mount Hood visible in the background at Timberline Lodge in Government Camp, Ore., Dec. 14, 2009.
AP Photo/Don Ryan
Last updated at 8:35 p.m. EST

Two climbers missing on Mount Hood for the past five days are likely dead and a search will not resume any time soon because of severe avalanche danger, officials said Tuesday.

Dr Terri Schmidt, an expert on hypothermia and mountain survival, said there was less than a 1 percent chance that Anthony Vietti and Katie Nolan had survived after going missing on Friday.

The body of a third member of their party, Luke Gullberg, 26, of Des Moines, Wash., was found on the mountain Saturday.

Schmidt spoke at a news conference called by rescue officials. She talked with relatives of the missing climbers earlier in the day about the chances of survival in the extreme conditions on Mount Hood.

Steven Rollins, a rescue leader, said search teams would not be going back up the mountain any time soon because of avalanche dangers were made worse by an ongoing storm that has created whiteout conditions.

Rollins, with Portland Mountain Rescue, said it would take four to five days of good weather to ease the avalanche risk, but such stretches were rare in the winter on Mount Hood.

"We can't get people off the ground ... our hands are really tied," Rollins said. "If there is anything we could do we would do it."

CBS News correspondent Priya David reports that, although rescuers have not officially called off the search, as they hope for a break in the weather Tuesday, with avalanche danger so high, it's unlikely they could conduct a ground search even if the skies cleared.

A whiteout expected to dump as much as two feet of new snow on the mountain prevented a helicopter and ground teams from resuming the search. The storm was expected to last until Thursday, threatening to cause an avalanche that could further complicate a rescue.

"It doesn't look good," Jim Strovink, spokesman for the search and rescue operation, said about the forecast. "This could hang on for a couple of days."

Gullberg was found dead on a glacier Saturday. An autopsy showed he suffered minor injuries in a fall and died of hypothermia.

Teri Preiss, Vietti's aunt, told "The Early Show" on Tuesday that the young man's family "have a different kind of peace," taking comfort in their conviction that Luke, "literally chose to give his life for his friends" as he struck out solo on a mission to find help for his two friends.

Preiss praised the rescue workers, saying she and her family had the utmost confidence in their abilities and saying she was glad that, "amazingly, they're still calling this a rescue mission, not a recovery mission."

Strovink said Schmidt would answer questions about the health dangers faced by Vietti, 24, of Longview, Wash., and Nolan, 29, of Portland.

Intermittent snow and subfreezing temperatures have hampered the search since it began on the 11,249-foot mountain.

Rescuers said they were hoping Vietti and Nolan had managed to carve out a snow cave and were waiting out the storm.

"We are still being very optimistic," said Steve Rollins, a search leader. "I've been in plenty of snow caves in complete blizzards. You don't know what the weather is like outside."

Gullberg, of Des Moines, Wash., was found without his pack or the ropes that had apparently bound the group together at some point.

The discovery raised hope among family members that Vietti and Nolan had Gullberg's safety equipment and supplies after he headed down the mountain for help.

The Mount Hood ordeal began last Friday when the trio was reported missing. They had started up earlier in the day on what was expected to a one-day outing.