Tuesday, May 29, 2012


An accident like the one we survived is a horrific event. I chose to take pictures of it and I hesitated for fear of appearing ghoulish.  But after the bicycle accident last October, (my blog entitled Black Monday) where I took three  pictures and felt guilty about it and stopped, I found out through the long process , when the Highway Patrol needed my pictures, and after becoming friendly with the victims Essya Nabballi  and Martha Wright, that it was the right thing to do. So, I hope  these photos offend no one.

This photo shows the long drop we took.

The driver, front, radioed the office  several times for help, telling them we need paramedics, NOW!  There is no signal in the canyon for cell phones for those who tried dialing 911. And, when you accept the remote location, when you accept the beauty and adventure you are about to enjoy,  you also surrender those conveniences we've come to know, including immediate emergency services.

Jim and I were seated right behind the driver. The road is bumpy, rutted, rock strewn and I watched as he navigated the half day journey to our lunch spot through the many twists and turns, around downed trees and through heavy sands and mud. I can only say, Deschennes Davidson is an excellent, driver, a strong man who knows this road.  When we left our lunch spot and began the ascent, I saw him go over a berm,  he turned his wheel frantically to the right, but the vehicle continued to the left. Jim yelled, we are going over. And I dove for the floor as others who heard him did the same.

There were only about five of us who were mobile, to help the others. In this tragedy, there was good luck in that the incident happened so close to the lunch stop, that the tour that pulled in behind us for their lunch, heard the screams and the shouts and the noise and came to see. They were our rescuers and, they came running to help. Though I know none of them, I saw them all working their hearts out, and we are ever grateful to them. Bill, Anita, Jim, Davidson, and  myself were unable to do much. Jean and Chris, a couple from Wisconsin were unhurt and did most of the heavy hauling in our group and continued when the other tour members pitched in.

For my own situation, Jim and I were protected somewhat by the cab. Thus our injuries were not as severe as others. I was trapped and pinned painfully under a collapsed bench with the woman above, Deby, sitting on top of it. She struggled to lift her weight up so that I could remove my painful breast, ribs and back out. My hand was still trapped under the back of the bench seat,  now with her full weight turning my hand numb. I was able to dig in the dirt and free my hand. Deby struggled to get out and became the first to get out. She was worried because  her husband was struggling to breathe. I went out behind her. Then they got her husband, Richard, out.

Jim was helped out behind Richard and others worked getting the most injured out of the wreck. They were closer to the ground  at the back of the truck and  took the brunt of the crash.  Jim was mobile for awhile. He laid in the shade to rest and was never able to really navigate on his own after that.

Remembering black Monday, I took pictures of the undercarriage of the truck.  A gentleman from the other tour was a mechanic and he held up the tie rod, showing that it was missing the nut and cotter pin, thus the driver had no control of his steering.

My favorite canon camera was scraped and crushed under the truck, but I used my alternate camera and just kept taking pictures and documenting everything I could. I had also brought a half-gallon jug of water and became the official water person, moving from group to group and trying to keep water in the small bottles. We luckily had a former medic from Viet Nam, his name is Beau, from Virginia,  who knew what to do and he kept order. Moving from place to place making sure everyone could wiggle their toes, move their hands, and talk. He instructed helpers to keep them talking, keep them hydrated, keep the sun off them so they wouldn't burn.  He was indispensable and Beau, where ever you are, we are so very grateful. He worked extensively with Richard, clearing his breathing passages, talking to him, begging him to keep breathing, giving him CPR.  Richard went into shock and died at the scene.  Beau  went off to himself and cried a bit, and then came back to pitch in. The driver, too, was much affected by Richard's death and got sick in the bushes. None of us were left untouched.

This woman and her husband were  determined by the first medics on the scene to be the most severely injured. He kept demanding to be by his wife. She could hear him and said tell him it is his fault I won't be able to make my class on Monday, because he wanted to take this damn tour. With her sense of humor intact, he was then calm enough to quit trying to get up and move about. She lay in this position the entire time.

It took over an hour to get everyone out from under the truck. It was three hours before the helicopter arrived to take people out. The first plan was to fly them out of the canyon to ambulances waiting above on the overlook. But, the injured were severe and were taken directly to a trauma center and a second helicopter dispatched.

Again, without all the helping hands of the second tour group, the job of making it up to the copter would have been much more difficult and timely. Circumstances, not birth, make people heroes.

Bill, with his jacket over his head, sheltered and kept his injured wife's spirits up as best he could through the entire three hours. He, too was injured and needed stitches in his head. She was in the most pain and her screams of pain is what brought the group to help us.

Margaret and her friend Anita sat next to the truck, both complaining of being in pain, but feeling okay. But, when they tried to get up, Margaret could not walk and had to be carried out on a back board as well.

As the last helicopter left, with the sight of the ancient ruins behind it, I couldn't help but think, what a different world we live in compared to the ancients. We will never know them,  but we all experienced  the beauty of this special place.  (You can click on any of these photos to make them larger.)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this Mary. What a tragedy. We were there the day before this tragedy happened and heard about it only through your blog....

Mary Matzek said...

We have been hearing from family and students of Dr. Richard Crowe who was from Hawaii. Everyone feels deeply for this loss. Thank you!

Monica Gardella said...

Thank you very much for posting this - our friends, Rich & Debbie (the ones cracking jokes) are ok and in the hospital in New Mexico. This blog has helped keep us all informed, as we have been so very worried. Thank you again.

Mary Matzek said...

Thank you, thank you for letting us know. My other blog has many comments about this event and we wanted to know how Rich and Debbie were faring, even though we didn't know their names. I'm glad to know they are okay and if you can keep us informed about any developments that will be kind. I guess there is something bonding about an accident like this that makes everyone want to know that everyone else is (or isn't) okay. I'm going to include your comments in today's blog. My other blog, if you'd like to read the comments is http://otrwjam.wordpress.com
Again, thanks for letting us know.

Anonymous said...

We were in another group past White House Ruins that day, and were on our way back from Spider Rock when we saw the helicopters and knew something was very wrong. I appreciate your writing about the event here because we had no way of finding out. Our hearts go out to the injured and Richard's family. The Canyon is beautiful but it is raw and wild and a challenge to be in that few of us in this modern world ever face.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the photos. Sad situation.

Mary Matzek said...

Thanks for looking in. Sad indeed. Just got your message today though the date is June 4th. Sorry about that.

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