The crew in the first rescue helicopter to fly over the massive mudslide in Snohomish County came upon a surreal world that resembled a moonscape.
“All the debris that’s visible is on the south edge. The rest is sand and silt,” said Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office chief pilot Bill Quistorf.
Aside from that debris, “there are no visible signs of houses or anything man-made,” Quistorf said at a news briefing this afternoon.
But the most moving moment during the briefing came when Randy Fay, a rescue tech and fire commissioner, recounted the story of 4-year-old Jacob Spiller.
As the rescue chopper came upon the youngster, he was dressed in only a lightweight, sleeveless shirt and pants that had fallen around his ankles, said Fay, growing emotional as he spoke. When the boy was pulled up to the helicopter, his pants came off.
“I’m a grandpa,” said Fay. “The recoveries working with younger children is the hardest thing we do psychologically.”
Four members of Jacob’s family are missing in the mudslide.
Fay went into detail about his group’s part in the rescue operations and talked about the difficulty of rescuing people from the shifting, watery muck on Saturday.
“It was exhausting. The other technician and me spent the day swimming through waist-deep mud,” he said.
The people they rescued were in shock and hypothermic, so when they got them into the chopper, they turned the heat on full-blast.
Fay said that when they were flying to the landslide site, they assumed the damage would be minimal.
“When we flew over, we were thinking (just) a single house. But it was like a moon landscape of pickup sticks, there were trees and debris.”
One woman who was rescued begged him to help her save a painting that she treasured; he did. That woman was Robin Youngblood, who was featured in this Seattle Times story.
“She was on what was left of her roof. It was laying at her feet,” he said, adding that the painting was of a Native-American chief.
Fay, also a helicopter rescue tech, said they started with hoist rescues and kept searching for people who were visible. Navy pilots soon arrived to help, he said.He said his helicopter was among five searching for survivors in a relatively small airspace.
“We were able to get to everybody we spotted,” he said.