A rescuer who was part of the helicopter crew that rescued a 4-year-old boy and others from the Oso mudslide recounted the dramatic experience in an emotional news conference Wednesday.
Randy Fay was among the team that was first on the scene soon after the mountainside buried the small community.
The veteran Snohomish County crewmember and his team were just preparing for a training mission last Saturday when they got word of a mudslide in the Stilliguamish Valley.
“We had a good idea it was something big when we heard there wasn’t any water flowing downstream,” he said. “You know we’re thinking single house, kind of these smaller slides that are typical in this area. As we came around the Stillaguamish, it’s gone.”
Fay describes the scene as a “moonscape with pick up sticks everywhere.”
The crew aboard the helicopter designated Snowhawk 10 immediately began looking for survivors, spotting a number of people waving from the mud and muck below. But it was unlike any other rescue Fay had been through in his decades of experience.
“It was just a mushy slurry, and once you got into it you could not, there’s no way to push yourself up,” he recounted. “The other technician and I spent most of our day in waste or chest deep mud swimming through it and slogging through it.”
First, they rescued several women who were floating on a sea of debris that had been their house.
“They couldn’t get up, so we had to do a hand line thing to pull them out and get them in the aircraft.”
It was overwhelming. Despite years of rescues, Fay said he has never dealt with what he called people in “walking shock.”
“They’re caked in mud, head to toe, and there’s these two eyes looking at you, and you can tell they’re glad to see you. But they don’t know who you are, they don’t care and they’re just standing there immobilized.”
After rescuing the women, they spotted a small child standing amidst the muck all by himself. Nearby, two men tried to to make their way to him, sinking in the neck deep mud.
Eventually, they got to the youngster.
“He was obviously very traumatized. He was hypothermic, he was shivering badly. He was dressed in kind of a pull over sleeveless T-shirt and his underpants. When we first tried to pull him out he had pants on but they were down around his ankles.”
Fay fought back tears as he relived the emotional rescue, admitting it reminded him of his own grandson.
“You kind of go through ‘well, if that was Eli, I’d do whatever I had to do,” he said.
In all, Fay and his crew performed eight different rescues during the day. But they were far from alone. A number of other crews from Snohomish County, the Navy and other jurisdictions all joined in the rescue effort Saturday, pulling a number of people to safety.