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Family of climber killed on Mt. Hood sues county, sheriff's office and 911 for $10 million

Image of the rescue effort on Mount Hood courtesy Jesse Cornett

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. – The family of a climber who died on Mt. Hood in May 2017 is suing Clackamas County, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and Clackamas 911 for negligence and wrongful death.

John Thornton Jenkins died from a fall while climbing the Hogsback section of Mt. Hood on May 7, 2017.

In the lawsuit, his family argues that miscommunication between Clackamas County first responders delayed the helicopter from reaching him in time to save him.

Jesse Cornett was climbing Mount Hood and saw Jenkins fall that day.

"There was a lot of tumbling and he stopped very close to where I was," Cornett told KATU News Tuesday.

The lawsuit says Jenkins fell several hundred feet at approximately 10:40 a.m.

Clackamas County 911 received a phone call reporting the incident at 10:48 a.m. According to the lawsuit, dispatch transferred the call to Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

KATU News obtained a copy of Cornett's 911 call for help from the mountain.

911 Operator: "911 what’s the nature of the emergency?"

Cornett: "Hey we’re on Mt. Hood just below Hogsback. And somebody just suffered a fall. "

911 Operator: "Okay they were up skiing or"

Cornett: "What’s that?"

911 Operator: "Were they up skiing?"

911 Caller: "No, no, no. We were climbing."

Cornett said he now believes the operator made a critical mistake by transferring his call.

"This is what I learned after the fall is that the 911 operator should keep you on the line to determine your coordinates should rescue be necessary and the first thing she did was transfer me to a non-sworn under trained sheriff's office employee," said Cornett.

They say the sheriff’s office did not call for help and told Cornett to contact Timberline ski patrol, even though Cornett said Jenkins was a climber, not a skier and that he was outside the ski area.

At 11:25 a.m., Timberline Ski Patrol called Clackamas County 911. Dispatch once again transferred the call to the sheriff’s office.

At 11:37 a.m., Portland Mountain Rescue asked Timberline Ski Patrol to request a helicopter.

Oregon Army National Guard did not receive the request for a helicopter until 12:29 p.m. and the helicopter did not reach Jenkins until 3:11 p.m.

Jenkins stopped breathing and lost his pulse as they loaded him into the helicopter’s basket.

The lawsuit accuses the county and emergency responders of failing to request a helicopter in a timely manner, failing to tell the climbers and rescuers to do a ground rescue, and routing the calls about the rescue to improperly trained employees.

Jenkins’ family is asking for $5 million in damages for Jenkins’ pain, suffering and ultimate death and another $5 million for their negligence.

RELATED | At least 46 people have died on Mt. Hood since 2002

Clackamas County sent out the following statement about the lawsuit:

“First and foremost, the county wants to extend condolences to the Jenkins family.

“Climbing the wilderness area of Mount Hood is an inherently dangerous activity that sometimes results in the loss of life. When all the facts are presented, the county is confident they will show that the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and our C-COM 911 Department responded appropriately to this tragic accident.

“The county is very proud of the fine work of the women and men who are involved in search and rescue efforts. They risk their lives to save the lives of others.”

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