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Investigators release findings on death of Mount Rainier rescue climber from Maine

Courtesy of the Hall family
Courtesy of the Hall family
A native of Patten, Mount Rainier National Park Ranger Nick Hall, 33, was killed when he slid about 2,500 feet down the mountain during a rescue on Thursday, June 22, 2012.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — National Park Service investigators say “inadvertent complacency” and the human tendency to “desensitize to the hazards around us” contributed to the death last year of Patten native Nick Hall, a rescue climber and ranger at Mount Rainier National Park.

The National Park Service on Tuesday released a report on the facts and circumstances surrounding Hall’s death.

The 33-year-old Hall fell 2,500 feet on June 21 on the Emmons glacier of Washington’s Mount Rainier while helping engineer a helicopter rescue of four climbers from Waco, Texas, from a crevasse near the summit. Some sources initially said he fell about 3,700 feet.

Hall had carved out a platform on the side of a mountain glacier to assist one of the injured climbers, but when he went to grab a litter hanging from the rescue helicopter overhead, he left his ice ax in the snow. When he lost his footing on the ice, he had no way of stopping himself, park officials said.

In a conference call Tuesday afternoon, park officials said working in a dangerous environment can cause people to take fewer precautions as they get used to situations. Officials said they are crafting a search and rescue plan to establish more strict protocols on what equipment and steps are required for rescues.

They also are changing staffing procedures this summer to ensure that the park’s most experienced climbers are working alongside seasonal employees to ensure best safety practices are being used during rescues.

Hall’s body landed at the 11,300-foot level on the north side of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier in an area prone to avalanches. Poor weather and hazardous mountain conditions delayed the retrieval of his body about three weeks.

The four climbers from Texas survived.

A four-year veteran of the park’s climbing program, Hall came from a family of EMTs. He served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, achieving the rank of sergeant, and worked for several rescue and EMT services before starting his duties at Mount Rainier National Park, his father, Carter Hall, has said.

“This accident was not Nick’s fault,” Mount Rainier Superintendent Randy Hall said Tuesday. “Nick Hall died saving lives. He was only on that mountain that day because four people had fallen and needed his help.”

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