Two California men among those in climbing accident

By Christina Almeida, The Associated Press
Friday May 31, 2002

A pastor and a retired airline pilot from Northern California, both experienced mountain climbers, were among the nine people who tumbled into a crevasse on Oregon’s Mount Hood on Thursday, the pastor’s wife told The Associated Press. 

Rev. Thomas Hillman, 45, of Windsor, Calif., was hiking down from the summit with a group that included his friend John Biggs, Hillman’s wife, Holly, said in a phone interview Thursday night from the couple’s Windsor home in Sonoma County. 

He was hospitalized with a head injury but was able to talk with her briefly by phone and described the accident to her, she said. She didn’t know the condition of his friend. 

Three people died on the mountain, and a helicopter crashed and rolled down a snowy slope during an attempted rescue. Two climbers and two people in the copter were injured. 

Mrs. Hillman, who like her husband is a pastor at the Windsor Community Methodist Church, said he and Biggs were among two groups of climbers who were about 800 feet from the 11,240-foot summit when the tragedy occurred. 

She said the other group lost its footing and crashed into the group that included Biggs and Hillman. 

“That sent John flying down the slope,” she said. “Tom did all he could to stop the fall, but the other team got tangled with John and got tangled up in the crevasse.” 

Hillman said her 45-year-old husband was an emergency medical technician and captain of a fire crew before becoming a pastor. 

“He’s very, very safe. If you had to have a safe partner, that’s who Tom was,” she said. 

Both her husband and Biggs are avid climbers who have scaled mountains across the country, Hillman said. They climbed mountains in Montana and Wyoming last year. 

“It’s the challenge and the exhilaration of being on top of God’s creation,” she said. 

Biggs, a retired pilot for United Air Lines, is a member of the Hillmans’ church.