Ambrose and I drove up to the Big Creek Lodge on Friday, June 28th. I had the day off of work, and we were planning to hang out Friday and Saturday before driving back on Sunday. We had reservations for dinner on Saturday, and otherwise were planning on cooking for ourselves at the campsite.

I am incredibly grateful that we did end up driving up on Friday, this particular Friday. Because while we were in the kitchen, chatting away, a plane’s engine roared way too loud, escalating in pitch and followed by an odd noise and silence. A plane had failed to land on the strip, continued south to go around for another try, and something happened. According to witnesses, the plane was too low and ended up disappearing into the trees.

One guest ran off directly to the site without even pausing for shoes. The innkeeper scrambled some other guests with a side by side and a first aid go-bag she had prepared. Ambrose, having had a variety of first responder training over the years, from lifeguarding to damage control in the Navy and passing a Sierra Club wilderness first responder course, went along with a guest who happened to be a doctor.

It took time, precious time, for the site of the crash to be found. The trees in that area are thickly overgrown, making it difficult to see more than 10 yards through the brush. I was at the lodge, listening to a local radio as well as an aviation radio along with the innkeeper, some children of the guests, and other volunteers/workers at the lodge.

But then the call came for water, and we didn’t know how much or for what. So I offered up the water Ambrose and I had at camp, and the innkeeper and I joined the group at the site.

Shiny, twisted metal.

The incongruity of a plane wedged between trees, bright blue and cream.

There was a passenger stuck in the plane, along with the deceased pilot, and the main focus of the group closest to the plane was getting him out. But the plane needed to be stabilized first, which, by the time I arrived, it mostly was. Tie-down ropes had been used to brace the body of the plane against a tree, along with a come-along on another tree. A cut tree was propped up against the body of the plane, braced by a local who had responded to the call.

I looked around and tried to stay out of the way, but available. I could hear the folks closest to the plane talking softly with the survivor, explaining to him what was going on, and calling him often by name. A bit farther out, some folks kept an eye on the plane itself. Further out, where I was, we looked for ways to help, passing water to those who needed it, and looking at what would be needed once we got the survivor out.

I joined another local woman wielding a chainsaw to clear a path to the road, because the only way to get the survivor to help was on foot. She cut the larger logs, and we both cleared the cut logs and smaller pieces as much as possible. There was a bit of luck in the location, because a kind of road had been built when a fence was installed. Once the fallen logs and limbs were cleared, it was relatively flat.

We cleared it all the way up to the road; there was a property marker right by the road. My companion made sure it was highly visible by clearing the area around it and then sticking a tissue in it. The white popped amidst the dirt.

The first Life Flight crew arrived, and even though we’d neglected to send someone out to meet them, they arrived at the scene and got to work on the survivor, who was still, at that point, in the plane. The plane had been cut open by that point, allowing decent access, but I think folks wanted to wait to move him until the paramedics were there. Still, it took a few more minutes before they were able to extract him.

Ambrose and I helped clear the path around the front of the plane, where I found something that looked like a Go Pro camera on a strap, though it seemed too small. I picked it up so I could hand it off to someone in authority later. And then they brought him out. His clothes were shredded, though whether that was from the crash or medical aid, I couldn’t say. Mosquitoes were thick in the trees, so much so that along with the water we’d brought out bug spray. I could see the mosquitoes landing on the survivor, so I got the doctor to get some spray on him, and the paramedics got some applied as well.

At this point, a lot of people started heading to the road, taking back equipment that had been brought out in haste. I waited. I could see that there was going to be a need for a lot of hands once they were ready to transport the survivor. And when the time came to start to move him, I helped, holding on to one side of the stretcher, walking forward with careful sidesteps, trying not to step on the feet of the other people helping to carry. We had to stop several times to take a rest, and so one of the paramedics could go back for the equipment they needed to take out to the road with them.

Then Ambrose appeared, coming back to the scene. He took over carrying the equipment, allowing the rest of us to continue to carry out the patient. I think we stopped four times before getting to the last stretch, which would be uphill. When the time came to lift, I noticed the IV line dangling a bit low, but I thought I could avoid stepping on it. And I did, until we got to the tight turn around a tree where the property marker was sticking up on the other side. My foot caught the line and the patient cried out in pain. I made sure not to do that again; not that I had much chance, as we turned one last time and loaded him into a waiting truck bed.

It was kind of over at that point, for me, and for Ambrose. And in a way, it wasn’t. We walked back to the lodge along the road, holding hands. Chatting of something inconsequential for a moment before the conversation swirled right back to what we’d just been a part of.

Back at the lodge, we both focused on our “jobs” for the night. Ambrose kept up with dishes, while I served plates of food not only to the reserved guests, but any of the folks who had volunteered their time and effort to help out. Once everyone had been served, Ambrose took a break from the dishes and we both ate. My job was pretty much done, though I did keep bussing tables to keep Ambrose busy with the dishes.

Some of the guests who had participated in the search and rescue action built a fire in the Big Creek firepit. I’m sure Ambrose and I would have been welcomed to join them, but we both wanted to get to our beds. Even so, we didn’t fall asleep quickly, continuing to talk in waves as we processed the experience. Ambrose allowed his emotions to come to the surface, and I was happy for him, that he was able to do that now.

Oddly, as I tend to cry very easily, I had not shed a single tear. I think the enormity of the situation hadn’t really hit me. It still hasn’t.

But I know, now, that I am a person who will step up and help in these situations. I can be a strong arm to support the efforts of folks who know what they’re doing. It feels good to know that about myself.

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