Rescuers Recount Mudslide

By KING

Published 05/01 2014 01:21PM

Updated 05/01 2014 01:24PM

(KING)  For the first time since the devastating landslide in Oso, Washington members of the air crews that rescued people from the mud came together Wednesday to talk about what they faced in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

It was the first time a lot of the men and women have met. 

They are the few who had a bird's-eye view the day a mountainside broke loose and wiped out a community.

"It's like somebody took a big bulldozer and just cleared out the entire valley and then dumped, you know, 100,000 dump truck loads of dirt on the ground," says Beau Beckner.

Beckner and the crew of Snohomish County's "Sno-Hawk Ten" were already geared up that Saturday morning, preparing for a training mission.

Rescue tech Ernie Zeller remembers coming up over the ridgeline and being stunned by what lay below them.

"The size, the very mass size of the slide itself," he says.

They started looking for any sign of life.

First they spotted a man on a roof. He gave them an okay sign, and waved them toward people trapped in the mud. 

On the other side of the slide Lt. Commander David Waner was at the controls of a search and rescue helicopter from Naval Air Station Whidbey. They lowered men with chainsaws to cut through debris and rescue a family.

"They had dug them out from underneath what appeared to be one house, but it was two houses combined underneath one roof, with a boat, and a couple of cars and a tractor," Lt. Waner recalls.

Together, those two helicopter crews rescued more than a dozen people. 

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