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Man who died climbing on Baker ID’d as Air Force major; companion expected to survive

A Navy search and rescue team rescues an injured driver from the slopes of Mount Baker on Saturday. The injured man’s climbing partner died after falling several hundred feet into a glacial crevasse.
A Navy search and rescue team rescues an injured driver from the slopes of Mount Baker on Saturday. The injured man’s climbing partner died after falling several hundred feet into a glacial crevasse. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Officials have named the man who died Saturday afternoon while climbing on Mount Baker, but details of the incident remain unclear, officials said Tuesday.

Air Force Maj. Mario Cooper, 37, of SeaTac, was killed when he fell several hundred feet and landed in a glacial crevasse on the northeast flank of Mount Baker, a 10,781-foot volcano east of Bellingham, said Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks.

Parks said Cooper’s climbing partner, who was injured in the fall, was expected to survive. Cooper’s friend’s name was not released, but Parks said he was the same age as Cooper and not a member of the military.

Cooper’s friend was rescued Saturday afternoon and flown by helicopter to St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham, then transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Cooper was passionate about climbing, said his brother, Edward Quinonez of Seattle. Quinonez contacted The Bellingham Herald on Tuesday, seeking information about the incident.

“My mom is devastated. She would like to know what happened,” Quinonez said Tuesday. He declined to elaborate, saying U.S. military officials had told him not to discuss his brother’s death publicly.

Parks had no further information about Cooper, including where he was assigned and the duties he performed for the Air Force. Parks had no information about what caused the fall, or what the climbers were doing.

Cooper and his companion were at the 6,000-foot level on Sholes Glacier near Coleman Pinnacle when they apparently slipped, sheriff’s officials said, adding the two were equipped for a mountaineering expedition with helmets, harnesses, rope and ice axes.

Photos from near the scene show steep, snow-covered terrain. Witnesses said Monday the climbers were following the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail southwest of Artist Point, past Coleman Pinnacle in an area called The Portals.

Sholes Glacier is not among the six standard approaches for a recreational summit of Mount Baker, according to a U.S. Forest Service online information page.

Dr. Gary Goldfogel, the Whatcom County medical examiner, said an autopsy showed Cooper suffered a broken right femur, hip and pelvis.

“Probably shock and hypothermia played a role,” Goldfogel said Tuesday. Shock is a medical term for a sudden drop in blood flow through the body.

Temperatures Saturday afternoon were in the mid-50s, according to weather data recorded at Mt. Baker Ski Area’s Pan Dome measuring station at the 5,020-foot level.

Cooper was laying on ice at the bottom of the 25- to 40-foot crevasse for about two hours until a Navy helicopter crew saved his companion and determined that Cooper was dead. A Navy official said the helicopter crew reported dangerous conditions and flying debris from propeller wash Saturday.

Emergency response in the remote region is often delayed and sometimes complicated by foul weather and rugged terrain.

Sheriff’s offices in Whatcom and Snohomish counties sent teams by helicopter and on foot to recover Cooper’s body Sunday.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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