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Hikers plucked from Crater Lake caldera

Two Seattle-area men had to be airlifted from the shore of Crater Lake this morning after they illegally scrambled Sunday afternoon down the caldera in a dangerous trip that saw one of the men suffer serious injuries after tumbling the last 250 feet to the lake, authorities said.

A Jackson County Search and Rescue helicopter shortly after 8 a.m. today plucked Raul Mendez and Abraham Dominguez-Gonzalez, both 30, individually from the shoreline near the North Junction and carried them more than 1,100 feet up to safety, according to the National Park Service.

Mendez was then airlifted by an AirLink medical transporter from Bend, presumably taking him to a Bend hospital for treatment, park spokeswoman Marsha McCabe said this afternoon.

"He was pretty banged up, and he's probably got some broken bones, but we don't know for sure," McCabe said.

Dominguez-Gonzales suffered from minor hypothermia and was treated at the scene, McCabe said.

Both men also were cited in U.S. District Court in Medford on misdemeanor charges of entering a closed area and creating or maintaining a hazardous condition, the latter because they put park staff and rescuers in danger, McCabe said.

The west end of the park has only recently been opened.

"Every year, we do have people who wander into the caldera," she said. "It's not legal to do because it's so dangerous."

In Sunday's case, the two men and a woman were at the rim's edge, and the men began their descent into the caldera about 2:30 p.m., the park service reported. The woman reported them missing at 7:30 p.m., and AirLink was called in to search for them.

Mendez and Dominguez-Gonzalez were spotted two hours later, and both were alert and responsive, the park reported. However,the rescue operations were suspended until this morning because of darkness and the hazardous terrain.

The Jackson County Search and Rescue helicopter was called in for the actual rescue. AirLink returned to transport Mendez.

In many instances, people who scramble or fall down the caldera are spotted during boat tours and are rescued by boat from the shore, McCabe said. However, deep snow has kept Cleetwood Cove closed, and no boats are currently on the lake, she said.

Springtime can be extra dangerous for those who step over the caldera rim, even for those who think they are stepping onto flat land, according to the park service.

Overhanging snow patches called cornices are routinely formed on the rim when blown snow forms an overhang with no solid ground beneath it for support. That, however, was not the cause of Monday's rescue.

—Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.


The Jackson County Search and Rescue helicopter helps retrieve stranded hikers from the shoreline of Crater Lake National Park earlier today. One hiker sustained major injuries after tumbling 250 feet. The other hiker was suffering from minor hypothermia. An Airlink medical helicopter from Bend returned to transport the most seriously injured hiker. (Photo courtesy of Crater Lake National Park)