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Eugene team to scour plane site

Will seek lost men, crash clues on McLoughlin

A mountain rescue team from Eugene will be on Mount McLoughlin today, trying to recover the bodies of two Medford men who perished when the airplane they were flying crashed into Southern Oregon's highest peak Monday.

With help from a helicopter, the Eugene Mountain Rescue crew also will try to remove wreckage from the downed Cessna 172 that could help investigators learn what caused the crash that killed Ed Dunlap and Monte Landon.

Rescuers tried during the week to reach the wreckage but were turned back by bad weather and dangerous terrain. They said it was unlikely the men could have survived the impact. Temperatures have been below freezing at the 8,700-foot level of the mountain where the plane went down for much of the time since the crash.

The rescue team is an arm of Lane County Search and Rescue, which agreed to help with the recovery effort when Jackson County asked for assistance.

Oregon counties often help each other in search-and-rescue operations, because few counties have enough resources and volunteers to cover every conceivable situation, said John Miller, search-and-rescue coordinator for Lane County.

Miller said the rescue team trains frequently in the high Cascade peaks near Bend, on terrain much like the crash site. They've done at least five aircraft recoveries over the years, Miller said.

They're all weekend climbers, Miller said. They play or train in the mountains on ice or vertical rock almost every weekend.

Weather and safety concerns may limit what the team can accomplish, Miller said. Clouds or wind could prevent them from flying. Fall's first snow could make treacherous footing on the loose, unstable rocks (known to mountaineers as scree) around the crash area.

As many as 10 Lane County volunteers planned to meet with Jackson County Search and Rescue workers before dawn to make a plan for the project. They'll bring enough rope and climbing gear to ascend or descend 900 feet to reach the crash site, and they'll carry enough survival gear to allow them to stay on the mountain for at least 48 hours if they are forced to.

Forecasters predict clearing skies and warming temperatures through the weekend.

The team also will carry tools ' metal cutters, pry bars, wire cutters and extraction equipment ' that could be used to remove bodies from the wreckage or cut apart pieces of the plane for a helicopter to lift off the mountain.

They'll all be carrying about 50 to 60 pounds of equipment, Miller said.

Miller said team members plan to fly over the crash site to determine the best way to approach the wreckage and find a site nearby where the helicopter can set them down. They also could set down near the summit of the 9,495-foot peak and work their way down.

Removing human remains will be their first priority, Miller said. If team members can't bring out wreckage, they'll photograph the plane and look for telltale bits of information that could help investigators.

They'll look at things like the propeller, he said. The way it looks can help us tell if it was under power when it hit, or not under power. It'll be their judgment call about how much debris they can bring out.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail