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Wilson County man dies in Oregon hiking accident

By Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated May 12, 2014 at 8:04 PM

By all accounts, Cameron Parnell was an adventurer. 

Parnell, a 2001 graduate of Mt. Juliet High School, died April 28 when snow gave way beneath him and he fell 800 feet into Crater Lake in Oregon, according to his father, Scott Parnell. He was 31. 

Crater Lake National Park officials searched for Parnell for 10 days before curtailing their efforts to find him. 

“The death actually occurred on April 28,” said Scott Parnell. “As we were driving back from Memphis from a funeral a few days earlier, he called us and told us where he was going.

“We didn’t know for sure until May 1. The park service had gotten word to local police, and they had come out and told us.”

Scott Parnell said the search for his son was scaled back, awaiting better weather conditions. Cameron Parnell worked as a pilot and often used his week on, week off schedule to travel. His father said he was between homes at the time of his death, but he was looking to locate to Texas. 

Parnell was an avid rugby player with the Moosemen at Middle Tennessee State University, where he graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s of science degree in aerospace administration and a minor in criminal justice. He flew for O’Hara Flying Services.  

Parnell’s last known location within Crater Lake National Park was in the area of a collapsed snow cornice near the crater rim, said park spokeswoman Marsha McCabe.

“Searchers found a set of tracks leading to where the cornice was and not coming back ... we have evidence that leads us to believe that he was in that location,” she said. “We’re constantly worried about people getting out on the cornices.”

McCabe said no one is sure when the cornice collapsed, but park officials are nearly certain the lone tracks belong to Parnell, who rented snowshoes from the park and set off into the winter landscape to take photos on the afternoon of April 28.

Scott Parnell said his son sent him some of those pictures just before the accident. 

Warm, sunny weather that day followed several days of substantial snowfall at the park and likely contributed to the type of unstable snow conditions that lead to cornices collapsing, McCabe said.

She said park officials have reached out to everyone who was known to have been snowshoeing in the park from April 28-30, when family members reported Parnell missing.

“(Searchers) can pretty much account for all the other snowshoe activity that happened on those two days,” McCabe said.

Someone hiking on the same day Parnell went missing found a personal item belonging to him in the area of the collapsed cornice, McCabe said, but extensive air and ground search efforts have proved fruitless.

“We haven’t stopped looking; we are going up and checking on a regular basis with spotting scopes and binoculars,” McCabe said. “We don’t know for sure that he is dead; we don’t have a body.”

McCabe said Parnell is believed to have been hiking between Rim Village and Garfield Peak, but his tracks veered off the typical route and ventured closer to the crater rim.

“It’s difficult for someone to tell when they are on a cornice. You might think you’re just walking up a hill,” McCabe said.

Snow cornices are overhanging edges formed by wind blowing snow over rims or other sharp terrain features. They are often unstable and can give way without warning.

McCabe said park officials mark cornices in the area around the visitor’s center at Rim Village as a warning, but it would be impossible to mark every cornice around the rim.

Once there is enough snow melt, searchers will be able to access the lake shore and search by boat in the area below where the cornice collapsed, but that might not happen until June, she said.

“The slope itself is very steep and unstable at this time of year. Somebody would have to rappel down there, and it’s too dangerous to do that,” she said. “You can’t put all these other people at risk when you don’t even know whether there is anything there.”

Parnell’s family is planning a memorial service for Saturday at 10 a.m. at Lebanon Municipal Airport at 760 Franklin Road. A celebration of Parnell’s life will also be held that evening at 7 at Windtree Golf Club at 810 Nonaville Road in Mt Juliet.

The Mail Tribune in Medford, Ore. contributed to this report. 

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