Family of climber who died on Mount Hood claims rescue was delayed

Posted at 6:33 AM, May 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-16 08:33:29-04

The family of a climber who died on Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest mountain, says a delay in dispatching a rescue helicopter led to his death. John Jenkins was near the summit last May when he fell about 600 feet. The chopper arrived five hours later.

Jenkins’ family filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit this week against a sheriff’s department and 911 call center in Oregon, reports CBS News correspondent Bianna Golodryga. They believe if those calls were handled properly, Jenkins might still be alive.

The first call to 911 on May 7, 2017 was at approximately 10:40 a.m. Jenkins, nearly two miles up Mount Hood, had just tumbled down its slope and survived.

"He seems to be busted up. He’s stable," another climber and Good Samaritan Jesse Cornett said on the 911 call. "I don’t know if anything’s broken."

Cornett made that 911 call. The dispatcher transferred him to a Clackamas County deputy, who told him to call the ski patrol at a nearby resort.

"Because 911 was unwilling to help, I’m suddenly Googling… to find out a number to call ski patrol," Cornett said.

Volunteers arrived to help. More than half an hour later, someone made a second 911 call.

"I would like to initiate a response for a fallen climber up here on Mount Hood," the caller could be heard saying.

"Yeah, they called us and then, um, didn’t know if they needed our assistance, so they said they would call back if they did," the 911 dispatcher said.

The sheriff’s department was called again at 12:11 p.m., this time for a helicopter. It arrived at 3:11 p.m. about 4.5 hours after Jenkins fell.

"He’s, at this point, just obviously in pain, wailing, saying that he can’t breathe," Cornett said. "We were a part of something good until we realized that a key link had failed us."

A lawsuit filed by Jenkins’ family said his breathing and pulse stopped as he was lifted into the chopper. They accuse the county, the sheriff’s department, and the 911 call center of not requesting the helicopter in time and routing 911 callers to an improperly trained officer.

"It’s a very stressful job. It’s a very thankless job," said Rob McMullen, president of NENA, an organization of 911 professionals. He said dispatchers rarely get recognized for the good work they do.

"A lot of times the only work that you see of dispatchers is the negativity that happens on a call and it gets broadcast over the media," McMullen said.

A county spokesman said climbing Mount Hood can be deadly and that its employees responded appropriately. He told CBS News: "The county is very proud of the fine work of the women and men who are involved in rescue efforts. They risk their lives to save the lives of others."