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Volunteer pilot recalls rescuing Jacob from Oso mudslide

Volunteer helicopter pilot Ed Hvrivnak was on the team who spotted 4-year-old Jacob Spillers and pulled him from the deadly mudslide on March 22. (Central Pierce Fire and Rescue via Facebook)

Snohomish County volunteer pilot Ed Hrivnak was in the middle of a training exercise about 30 minutes away when his team received the call about the Oso mudslide.

He told KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show they expected to see a typical Washington state mudslide, but when they came up over the horizon, what they saw looked like the surface of the moon. He’s flown in Iraq and helped at the Oklahoma City bombing, but nothing prepared him for the scope of this disaster.

Luckily Hrivnak were so close and able to help pull 4-year-old Jacob Spillers and his neighbors from the mud.

When the slide hit their house, Jacob was home with his father and three siblings. His mother, Jonielle Spillers, was at work.

“We didn’t see him the first time we flew over him because he had a good amount of mud on him,” said Hrivnak.

They were pulling away from a drop off site and the helicopter was in the perfect position for their crew supervisor to spot Jacob shivering in the mud.

“He called out on the intercom ‘Hey, there’s a boy there in the mud.'”

Hrivnak said they saw two men using pallets trying to leap frog through waist-deep mud that was still moving to get to Jacob. He said the guys used their bodies to shield the boy from the helicopter wash.

“We were so busy running through our rescue checklist and procedures that there’s no time for emotion, but when I saw those guys in the mud, and other survivors – I recognize the community there, the citizens of Oso, Arlington, and Darrington that had part of their community destroyed – that they were still rising above what had happened and were helping their fellow neighbors out,” said Hrivnak. “I didn’t see anyone giving up.”

Hrivnak said there was a propane tank spilling nearby, big debris, and there was really nowhere to land. They dropped a technician on a clay boulder and hovered nearby. The two men helping Jacob were able to get him to the technician.

“Those citizens on the ground had a huge impact on our ability to be able to rescue 14 people by air between us and Navy Whidbey Island,” said Hrivnak.

He said that Jacob was very quiet – he didn’t seem to be in complete shock because he followed every direction.

“He knew there was safety there and he reached out and gave Randy a big bear hug and held onto him,” said Hrivnak.

He doesn’t know for sure, because they were turning around patients so fast, but Hrivnak bets that Jacob probably was a bit hypothermic. He was shivering and had no pants on. Snow began falling at the site later that day.

Hrivnak said he hasn’t talked with Jacob yet, but he would eventually like to meet him when his team is done focusing so heavily on the search effort.

He added that he and Jacob’s father, Billy Spillers, are from the same Pennsylvania town.

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