Helicopter Crew Chief On The Heroic Mudslide Rescue

Apr 4, 2014

The massive mudslide that engulfed Oso on March 22 has claimed at least 30 lives and destroyed dozens of homes.

While the community suffered countless devastation, the helicopter rescue team was instrumental in saving eight people. One of them was 4-year-old Jacob Spillers. His rescue was captured in the video below.

Beau Beckner, a reserve deputy and crew chief of Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team's SnoHawk 10, recounts the events from the day in an interview with Ross Reynolds on KUOW's The Record.

His team was about to depart for a training exercise when they got the word of a slide.

“We only had very little information when we were first notified so we didn’t really have any idea of the magnitude of what we were going to at that time,” Beckner said.

The March 22 mudslide in Oso, Wash., has claimed at least 30 lives.
The March 22 mudslide in Oso, Wash., has claimed at least 30 lives.
Credit Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC BY-NC-ND)

The crew arrived to the scene around 11:15 a.m. to find a large portion of a steep hillside had given way.

“As we came across the peak, I remember looking down and thinking, ‘Well, what are we looking at here,' because initially you just didn’t really understand as to the orientation of what you’re looking at because the highway was no longer there, and the river was no longer there. Everything was wiped out," he said.

After spotting some people during its initial sweep around the main part of the slide, the crew immediately went into rescue mode.

After helping several people to safety, Beckner said he noticed two men walking through the debris using some plywood. He said he initially didn’t know where they were going, but the crew soon spotted the little boy stuck in the mud.

They were able to drop a rescue technician over a large mound of dirt while the helicopter hovered closely to the ground. As the crew chief, Beckner said his job was to give directions to the pilots and narrate what was happening outside the aircraft.

He said one of the two men pulled Jacob out from the sticky mud, losing the boy's pants in the process.

Read: One Week Later, Prayers For Landslide Victims And Stories Of Survival

Beckner said the technician, the boy and the man all ended up getting stuck in the mud so they used a rope to pull the man closer to the helicopter and safely hoisting Jacob to Beckner’s arms. Jacob has since been reunited with his mom, who was not home at the time of the mudslide. His father and his three siblings are still missing.

Beckner said he didn't start feeling the impact of his efforts until he had left the area to go back to his regular job on Tuesday.

"You just start realizing how big of a situation this was,” he said. “I guess I was full-time deputy for 10 years so I’ve dealt with a lot of situations in which you see things and deal with situations that most average people wouldn’t. This wasn’t all that different to some extent but just on a much larger scale.”

Produced for the Web by Akiko Oda.