1986 Mount Hood Disaster

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1986 Mount Hood Disaster
Mount Hood, OR 9-1-13v (9726524158).jpg
Mount Hood viewed from just below Timberline Lodge
Date12-15 May 1986
LocationMount Hood (Oregon)
Organised byOregon Episcopal School

The 1986 Mount Hood Tragedy occurred in May 1986, when seven students and two faculty from Oregon Episcopal School died during an excursion on Mount Hood. The students were participating in an adventure program required by the school for sophomores. The disaster is the second deadliest alpine accident in North American history, behind an avalanche in 1981 on Mount Rainier which claimed eleven lives.


The students were participating in Basecamp, a program run by their Portland school following the principles of Outward Bound, and required for all tenth graders. Led by Tom Goman, a teacher from the school, the team set off from Timberline Lodge on Monday May 12, 1986, at 3 a.m. The forecast predicted an afternoon storm. The party consisted of 20 people: 15 students, one parent, Goman, the dean of students, and two technical consultants.

Seven members of the party turned back over the course of the morning. Bad weather suddenly arrived around 2pm and conditions deteriorated rapidly.

After difficulties, the team eventually descended off course. With evening approaching, the technical consultant constructed a snow cave. The cave was not large enough to hold everyone, and the accumulating snowfall built up over the entrance, obstructing the air flow and restricting access. The group stayed the night at the snow cave.

The consultant and a student set off for help after first light on Tuesday morning. The rest of the group waited at the snow cave.

Portland Mountain Rescue had arrived at Wy'East Day Lodge shortly after 5am on Tuesday, May 13th, in response to an overdue climbing party consisting primarily of high school students. The volunteer searchers faced blizzard conditions with winds exceeding 60 mph.

The consultant and a student, from the missing climbing party, emerged from the storm by mid morning. The two informed deputies and PMR chiefs that the rest of the team was holed up in a snow cave. Neither was able to pinpoint the cave's location.

Searchers continued to arrive on the mountain and were deployed strategically all day and night.

Wednesday morning, the weather cleared. A team of searchers found three students exposed to the brutal elements. Teams probed nearby for survivors.

The search took three full days. More than 150 searchers put themselves in harm's way to find the hidden snow cave.

The blizzard presented unbelievable obstacles including: whiteout conditions, an emergency helicopter landing (resulting in grounding of Air Force helicopters), communication device failures, fractured eye protection, tools and protective outerwear stripped by gusts, and snowcat battery failure as well as a windshield blowout. Also, searchers were experiencing falls and uncontrolled slides over cornices and into crevasses, requiring their own rescues.

Portland Mountain Rescue, The 304th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron, Alpinees, Corvallis Mountain Rescue Unit, Hood River Crag Rats, Mt. Hood Nordic Ski Patrol, Mt. Hood Ski Patrol, Columbus Search Dogs, German Shepherd Search Dogs, Hillsboro Helicopters and Seattle Mountain Rescue all volunteered their time and expertise in an unprecedented, multi-day search and rescue operation.

Miraculously, the cave was located. Helicopters rushed the victims to 5 Portland hospitals where doctors and medical staff attempted to save lives.

The entire story is covered in detail in "Code 1244: The 1986 Mount Hood Tragedy" (Released in 2019)

The author interviewed 37 people involved in this tragedy including the co-chiefs, rescue workers, school staff, and members of the climbing party as well as their families.


The school commissioned an official inquest, which assigned blame primarily to Goman for failing to turn back in the face of bad weather. Settlements were offered to the families of seven students who died, and one family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in September 1986. The school commemorates the event annually in May of each year. [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Toutonghi, Pauls. "Mount Hood's Deadliest Disaster". Outside Magazine. Retrieved 5 November 2018.