Oso slide: ‘Don’t forget our history’
Tim Ward and his wife Brandy had a beautiful life together. They were married 37 years, had two grown daughters, and five dogs. In 2007, they bought their dream home along Steelhead Drive in the Oso community.
The morning of March 22, 2014, started like any other Saturday.
“I was finishing up breakfast with my wife Brandy … had gone in to get a shower and about the time I tried to get the water temperature set the right way the water started to lose pressure,” Tim said.
He heard a rumbling but thought it was just the Navy jets that often trained in the area over the weekends. When the ground beneath him started to move and they lost power he realized it was something else.
“From there we went running down the hallway to get into the safest portion of the house that we could,” Tim said. “My wife was at one end of the house and I was at the other and as she got close to touching my hand and I got close to touching her hand the slurry of earth came up around us … she disappeared, I heard her call my name and that was it … then I said a prayer and that’s the last I remember.”
Tim still has no idea how much time had passed before he regained consciousness 500 yards away and about 15 feet beneath the surface of his neighbor’s property.
“The next thing I can remember doing is walking through the process from a military point of view of doing a self-assessment like you could after a combat issue,” he said. “Started at my head and worked my way down my shoulders and my arms. When I got to the point of reaching to my waist I realized, I think I might be having a problem because my body was facing one direction and my legs were facing another. At that point, I knew I was in trouble.”
Buried in the ground, Tim began calling out for help.
“I did get a response … I was thinking it was my wife. But then, all of a sudden, I realized this was a man’s voice, and that was a calming moment because at that point I realized that she was no longer with me,” Tim said, “We had been married 37 years. I had been with her 43. We were bonded in Christ and so I had a comfort. I thought she’s not having to go through what’s about to happen here because I have no idea how I’m going to get outta here.”
A neighbor eventually found Tim.
“He found me because I was calling up through the ground. I was lucky enough to be found above the water line, not below the water line, so I was in an air pocket when he found me. From that point, until they got me out of the ground it was about six hours.”
The neighbor had to lay metal pieces from the smashed homes around him down on the sinking ground to make his way to the area where Tim was buried.
“Within the next few moments from the time I heard him walking I could see an orange helicopter behind me and he says, ‘Tim, that’s the Navy. I’ll be right back, don’t go anywhere.’ Like I was going to go anywhere.”
His neighbor went to get help. By then, locals and volunteers from Darrington, Oso, and other nearby communities had shown up. Six of them started to work together to dig Tim out.
“At one point I remember they had to send somebody down inside because they didn’t know how much damage there was to my lower pelvic area so they tied my legs together. That’s when I realized what pain was,” Tim said. “At the same time, I realized also that I had been getting ready to get in the shower at that moment so I didn’t have my wedding ring, I didn’t have my glasses, I didn’t have any stitch of clothes on … and they were respectful, they were deliberate, they were purpose driven but most of all they were compassionate.”
And after they got him out, Tim waited in a basket to be hoisted up into an aircraft.
“One of the female firefighters had taken her jacket off and laid it across me so that I wouldn’t feel as humbled as I was feeling at that moment … damaged … broken … in the same condition as I was born.”
He was flown to Harborview Medical Center with significant injuries.
“My pelvic cradle was broken in half and rotated 90 degrees forward. My right hip socket and leg were separated from my pelvis. Both of my legs were crushed.”
Several days after the slide, Tim’s daughter told him search crews had found what they believed to be Brandy but could not identify her. They wanted to know if she had any tattoos, birthmarks, anything that could help. Tim remembered Brandy had an artificial knee and medical implants.
“And they said, great. And I realized, it was at that point that the only way they could positively identify her was by serial numbers. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to scream but I felt so empty and dirty that I couldn’t,” Tim said, “I felt like what did I … what did I allow my bride to go through?”
Tim got some comfort later when he was told Brandy died instantly and never felt anything.
Tim lost his wife and believed all five of his dogs were gone. But he was grateful his daughters had not come over with their families that day for the barbecue they had originally planned.
Then, three days after the slide, there was something else to be grateful for when he got news about his dogs.
“All of them were lost with the exception of one and his name is Oso Blue … and he’s now a tripod. He was not found until the third day. He was found under a pile of cedar trees and he had actually tried to escape and had de-gloved his own foot. But that’s not where he gave up. He continued to try to get out and for those three days he kept pulling to the point where he stripped out his right rear hip socket.”
Tim got the news that Blue had been found from one of his daughter’s as he lay broken in the hospital.
“They recovered Blue, she says, ‘Dad this is what’s happening.’ I said you make the decision what needs to be done. So he became a tripod. He got surgery. He got physical therapy. He got aqua-therapy.
“People cared, and that’s what was amazing. That’s why we’re here today because [of] people that did what they did without even knowing anything about us. Before we were just a mailbox on the side of Highway 530, but that day we were a neighborhood.”
And it’s that neighborhood Tim wants people to remember. After undergoing a year of physical therapy and spending another year on emotional recovery, Tim decided to move to Florida — leaving his children and grandchildren behind. It is too difficult for him to live here. He and Blue both still suffer from severe PTSD, including nightmares about the slide.
But Tim comes back once a year and visits the slide site every time with his new wife, a close friend of his and Brandy’s from high school, and his dog Blue.
Tim hopes to soon be able to visit the memorial park we’re trying to help raise money for. Not just for him, but for everyone.
“There were 43 wonderful people that will no longer be here and their families, every one of us is in a different stage. Everybody had a different loss and everybody will recover in their own time, but it’s their time, and what we’re looking to do is just figure out how to put together a place where they can sit … and cry, and smile, and laugh, and bring their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren and say this was part of our history.
“Don’t forget our history.”
Snohomish County and KIRO Radio are helping the families of those killed in the 2014 Oso landslide raise $6 million for a memorial at the tragic site to not only honor the 43 people killed, the survivors, and first responders, but also preserve the story of what happened there for generations to come.