Rescue aircrews take stock after Oso slide duty
Though the active search for Oso mudslide victims has ended and the 30 aircrew members from four agencies have returned to their normal duties, they are still processing that first day when they were the first responders at the scene.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Until Wednesday, members of the aircrews that responded to the Oso mudslide weren’t sure how many people had been rescued by the two helicopter teams within hours of the slide.
Bill Quistorf did the math: Seven people were rescued by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Helicopter Rescue Team, where Quistorf is the chief pilot. Six more people were rescued by a U.S. Navy Whidbey Search and Rescue team. And one person was rescued in a joint effort of the two teams.
Altogether, 14 people were rescued from the site through the efforts of aircrews. Thirteen survived.
Though the active search has ended, and the 30 aircrew members from four agencies have returned to their normal duties, they are still processing that first day, Quistorf said Wednesday at the Snohomish County Search and Rescue facility in Snohomish.
“It’s pretty traumatic, especially when you’re dealing with people who are injured and people who didn’t make it,” he said.
The slide was much larger than the aircrews first expected, they said.
As Quistorf flew the helicopter he looked down at the site but saw only gravel and mud, even though his map was showing that they were flying over a development. Lori Avaiusini, a pediatric flight nurse with Airlift Northwest, said she looked for a road to use as a reference point but couldn’t find one.
Ernie Zeller, who was a member of the first-responding Snohomish helicopter rescue team, said his team’s helicopter had to take a couple of passes over the site to determine the extent of the damage. They spotted Robin Youngblood and Jetty Dooper on a roof and hoisted them into the helicopter. The team then found Amanda Skorjanc, who had been seriously injured. As Zeller worked to transport Skorjanc, other crew members left to rescue 40-year-old Jacob Spillers.
“We just kept going and going and going,” Zeller said.
At about the same time, Airlift Northwest crews were taking the victims to hospitals. Crews airlifted Skorjanc’s son, 5-month-old Duke Suddarth, and Larry Gullikson, 81, according to Avaiusini.
It was difficult knowing that Airlift Northwest crews weren’t needed after the first day because no other survivors were found, she said.
“That was one of the hardest things,” Avaiusini said. “The question was, ‘Why aren’t we going?’ But it was because there were no additional patients after the first day.”
The crews have undergone and scheduled future critical-incident stress-management briefings to help with the trauma. They’ll also continue training together, said Lt. Rob Merin, a pilot with the U.S. Navy Whidbey Search and Rescue Team.
“We’ll be better prepared if, God forbid, this happens again,” Merin said.
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org