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2 Comments on Are you a survivor?


  2. Leonard Rawson // May 12, 2015 at 11:46 am // Reply

    “Now Go Get Them”

    The Chilling and Heart Warming
    Story of Survival
    In the
    Montana Mountains


    Leonard Rawson

    “Now go get them”
    My name is Leonard, on December 14th 1991, my sister Hollie, my nephew Joshua and Bill, Hollie’s husband came to Walkerville, near Butte, Montana where I was living with my parents Frank and Lois.
    This is my account of the next 24 plus hours. When Hollie, Josh and Bill came to Butte to visit and to rent a small Cesena airplane this was to locate several of the ranch’s cattle that were missing from the Johnson Ranch where my sister and her family worked and lived. The cattle needed to be located quickly and retrieved before winter really set in. An airplane would work much better than trying to scour that rugged area on horseback or even snow machines. I remember just a few weeks prior traveling to go hunting to and from this area and cattle were literally dead on all four legs in small groups frozen to death from the freezing cold weather and owners not feeding them properly.
    Bill had his pilot’s license and had prearranged with my Dad and my sister that the three of them would fly to Jackson that afternoon.
    However my Dad informed Bill he could not go at the last minute. That’s when Bill & Hollie offered the same ride on the plane to my Mom she declined because she was going to baby sit Joshua who was only 4 months old and they were not going to take him flying. So the invitation was extended to me and I accepted, why not? It would be a blast and I loved flying.
    Five to ten minutes before departing our parents’ home to go to the Burt Mooney Air Port in Butte, some prophetic comments were made regarding our unforeseen futures. Comments that, later in the story, would show what I have always known to be true: It is wise to listen to your Mom and Dad. My Mother said, “You guys better grab some matches in case you need to start a camp fire.” My reply was: “If we crash we are not going to need any matches.”
    However, being a good former Boy Scout you should always be prepared. So I grabbed a book of matches but without looking inside to see if there were any. After I had sufficed that request Mom went on to mention that we should take some food – just in case. Hollie brought out a concealed foot long candy cane that was an inch thick. “If we crash, we can use this to hit animals like deer over the head.” My mother failed to find the humor in this.
    Anyhow, in the event of surviving “a crash”, fire and matches were the least of our worries. We were hardly dressed for the subzero temperatures that are legendary in our part of the country. Bill, if I remember correctly, had a warm coat and I don’t recall his footwear, I think tennis shoes. Hollie had a fairly warm nylon coat, fiber filled with tennis shoes footwear and sweat bottoms on. I had un-insulated cowboy boots on, jeans, a tank top and a warm winter jean coat. None of us were ready for extreme exposures.
    On this date, daytime temperatures were later revealed to us being -15 to -20 in the day and -20 to -25 during the hours of no daylight. As most Montanans should know, in the mountain states of the northern hemisphere, the sun sets earlier in the day, in winter months around 5 p.m.
    We do without sunlight longer during the course of the day, mostly due to higher mountains ranges blocking the sun out than areas without large mountainous areas.
    Bill did not set any flight itinerary with the local ground control. Apparently, if your flight plan is to stay within a 100 mile distance from wherever you are taking off, you are not required to do so by either FAA or Montana rules. Our plan was to return to Butte that same afternoon or early evening. The rented airplane was a Cessna C-172G, big enough to comfortable fit the three of us.”

    After we received clearance from the tower to taxi the runway and take off, we did so and headed out of Butte towards Fleecer Mountain which is approximately 15 miles SW of Butte and west of Interstate 15. Flying directly over the top of that peak was nothing less than spectacular for me. I’ve always found flying and Montana landscapes fascinating.
    Mount Fleecer (elev.) 9,426 feet is one of Montana Giants. People camp on it, hunt on it, live by it, hike it and when I was in Boy Scouts during the late 70’s or early 80’s I recall one particular scouting campout where we spent 3 days and 2 nights out there on it. During this adventure we earned a very uncommon scouting award. It was the 100 below ZERO Award Patch. A lot of Scouts can earn it accumulating daily low temperatures over several weeks or maybe months. However, we earned the award in 3 days. Minus 45 and 50 below days, our parents were basket cases. We were playing in the snow and drinking Hot Chocolate and just being kids. I believe this maybe my first experience with minor frost bite on my toes and feet?
    All of our lives, it is a sight, Mount Fleecer, that we all have to look up at. But now I finally get to look straight down at it; (oh) and we couldn’t have been more than 100 to 150 feet above the peak. WOW!! To be honest it felt like we were only about 20 feet above in flight.
    Then our flight path had the Wise Rise Valley and river under us, Big and Little Granulated Mountains off to our right side of the plane and Pintler Mountains beyond that where I hunted and camped with my family so many times. It brought back memories of my Grandpa Perry, my Dad, Uncles Darwin, Harry and Duane and multiple cousins.
    One particular memory was about my Dad and Big Granulated. When Dad started teaching me to hunt at about 11 years of age. I just tagged along following his steps and never really paying attention to where we came from, or where we were going. I just wanted to shoot things.
    At 12 years old once a kid passed their hunters safety they can legally hunt. So I can’t remember if Dad gave me one full year to hunt before he lowered the “boom” or if he did it in my first year? Whenever it was, these were his basic words of instruction. “You had better start paying attention to where we are at and where we have come from. Because today, tomorrow or even next year I will turn around someday and have you lead us both back to the truck from where we started out at on that particular hunt. That turned me into a nervous wreck and I was scared. Because the areas we navigated and hunted was rugged terrain, a lot of trees blocking out visible landmarks, layers of mountains. Plus several miles from civilization.
    Dad then stated he will not help me lead us back; I must do it on my own even if it keeps us out overnight, underneath the stars, in the cold. So I had better start paying attention to landmarks and my surroundings.
    Needless to say, I went with Dad on hunting trips for another couple years but I didn’t really truly hunt, because I was too busy navigating the trail(s) in case that day was the day he decided I get to lead us out.
    Well that day finally did come, and it came after we reached the top of Big Granulated Mountain (elev.) 9,150 feet in the Wise River Valley on a very snowy day with poor visibility and knee high snow. My jaw dropped, I had a look of really when Dad turned to me a said. “OK, which way to the truck?” The snow was coming down so hard that our steps were almost getting completely devoured by the new snow.
    However, I pointed the correct way, which impressed Dad because we circled and stopped a lot climbing that mountain from its base earlier that morning tracking an elk. I was correct and away we went to the truck, and I passed Dad’s test. A Passover into manhood occurred on top of that Mountain. I was able to hunt again in my own mind, and this time I was able to pay attention to where I was going as well. Fathers need to know that their children are safe and can think for themselves in difficult times.
    To our left side and in front of us were endless beautiful mountain ranges that just mesmerized my flight. The ground and tree tops were white and crystalized with snow and deep frost because it was so cold outside. The three of us were safely tucked away in a temperature controlled airplane, flying through the beautiful southwestern Montana sky looking for missing cattle, then we’d return back to Butte was the plan. On a personal note, I was hoping to see vast herds of elk and beautiful country, maybe a Sasquatch from the advantage.
    The funny thing now looking back I never did see any Elk, Deer or Moose, the scenery of the majestic mountains was enough. I guess as the Crow flies, as my Dad and Grandpa Use to say, we flew about 90 to 100 miles from Butte to our destination near Jackson, MT.
    Our trip seemed to go by pretty fast because we were now entering Jackson air space. As we did, Bill acknowledged the town or any onlookers by tilting from side to side waving with the plane’s wings. Apparently a lady named Sue Johnson, was the last to see us as we headed toward our final moments in the air. Flying over Butte may take 45 to 60 seconds with this type of plane at our speed and altitude. Well, with the small town of Jackson, it took 10 seconds tops if that.
    Once we cleared the Johnson Ranch where Bill worked, on the southern end of the out skirts of Jackson, we started looking for missing cattle. To this day, I still search my memories for all the details of what is to come.

    PART 2
    We started circling certain areas where Bill and the Johnson’s believed the cattle would be, and then we increased the circling patterns to cover greater areas. I cannot remember how many circles we made before the plane encountered air turbulence and then we flew into a natural air pocket down draft. If you have ever been in a plane of any size, you usually experience butterfly feelings in your stomach when flying into air pockets. Well that down draft pocket pulled the plane down from our elevation some, to what level, I do not know.
    Because I was looking for cattle I didn’t pay much attention to our exact altitude, we were not super high in the sky, if I was to guess at the time I felt we were a couple hundred feet above tree top level. Bill, I supposed was keeping the nose up. Then we entered a second down draft, I noticed out my window, which was on the left directly behind the pilot seat, the wing was now level with tree tops. To this day, this was my thoughts then.
    “WOW, I hope Bill pulls up soon.”
    Then literally seconds later I heard Bill scream. He started out with possibly life ending obscenities.
    “We are going down……”
    First there was silence, then the crashing and crushing sounds from smashing into the tree’s and bouncing off of them and finally landing upside down on the frozen earth.
    As we were starting our crash I recall a couple memories. I grabbed the back of Bill’s seat so hard that I flattened a part of a ring I was wearing. See, the ring did not get pinned in between my finger and the seat or any other hard surface. I just grabbed that hard. I closed my eyes, because I knew I was going to die and I did not want to see death coming, impaled by a tree branch or a part of the aircraft. I remember recalling the movie “Heaven can Wait” when the actor Angel pulled actor Warren Beatty’s character out of his body before he actually did not die. My life actually flashed before my eyes. Now mind you, the crashing or falling from the sky amongst the tree’s and landing on the ground may of taken all of 10 to 15 seconds or even less, but a lot happens in a person’s mind when they think they are about to face death, or at least I did.
    I really do not know how to explain that crashing experience for people to fully understand what we went through that cold December day. It’s the sounds of metal, trees and fiberglass twisting and breaking. The anticipation of experiencing dismemberment or death as it was ready to occur. The sounds, the feeling, the smells, the vibrations and certainly the delusions of angels or realities of them waiting for you to point the direction you must walk now.
    A majority of us have either been in an automobile accident or we have enjoyed riding bumper cars at an amusement park. The automobile accident comes close to an airplane crash and the bumper car ride is similar but is simply fun and certainly not potentially life ending or life altering. Falling from the sky and twisting into trees and wondering when impact is coming and if it is going to hurt is horrible and terrifying with death being possibly imminent. That was my living nightmare.
    Once the plane came to a complete stop, I still had my eyes closed and they were shut tight. I was so scared to open them in fear of finding out where I was. Heaven or Hell or even still alive? Was Hollie or Bill dead or badly hurt? I needed to know and I didn’t want to know all at the same time if that makes sense. I was too scared to know.
    In what appeared to be a calm voice because I was not calm, I called out “Hollie, Bill,” and no one answered me. I waited and listened to the clinking and clanking of the wrecked plane for 5 or more seconds and called out again, “Hollie, Bill.” Bill answered me with a “what”, but Hollie did not. Now my anxieties and fears began to deepen. I asked Bill if he was alright and he mumbled something to the fact that he thinks so but he is not sure. Then Bill and I both called out for Hollie a couple times, and then she barely answered back. A huge relief came over me hearing Hollie’s voice, a relief that cannot be described. As wonderful as her voice sounded to me, I realized there were still obstacles ahead of us that were almost certain to be grave.
    Bill and I managed to get ourselves unbuckled from the plane’s seat belts. Remember when we finally stopped crashing the plane landed upside down? So our body weight was a major resistance trying to un-secure our buckle assemblies. Hollie needed the most assistance. We tried everything we could to help her. She was really busted up and couldn’t do much for herself except show pain and agony, but yet she was strong all along, which will be revealed much later in this story.
    With every movement she attempted, or I attempted to help her with, she was topping out at 9 or 10 on the 1 to 10 scale of pain like hospitals and Doctors’ offices use now. My sisters are tough and tender hearted as well. Hollie, even in tears just said “you have to help me even if it’s inch by inch.” I tried carrying her from the plane and dragging her, but the snow was crotch high to me and I had a 6 foot frame then. I am 5’11” ¾ now but still that’s deep enough and annoying when you only have on Treadles cowboy boots with worn holes on the sides of both boots. Carrying her was not an option because I didn’t want to drop her and it was hurting her. I helped her limp over away from the plane, lending support and acting like a crutch. I really can’t remember exactly how we moved her. God must have offered a divine helping hand and allowed Hollie not to hurt for a very short time.
    Bill was able to move out on his own and seemed to just be observing and wondering, so I let him be. Being the pilot, I’m sure a lot was weighing on his mind. Once I assessed my sister’s immediate needs and met them as best I could I had to get a fire built. It was bitter cold and we needed a source of heat.
    I still had some wits about me. Some of the logic and training passed down onto me by my Dad while camping, hunting and fishing under the Montana big sky, seven years of Boy Scouts in Troop 10 under Fred Steiner along with 6 years in the U.S. Air Force Security Police told me to build a fire away from the downed aircraft. I realized the possibility of any fuel that may have leaked could cause an explosion and we didn’t want to get Barbequed with the wreckage.
    Things I learned in Boy Scouts under the late Fred Steiner my mentor, teacher, scout master and mostly friend filled my mind. Fred taught us on many scouting campouts and at campfire building competitions that all you need is one match, and that is it. However please allow me to side track and tell a story of my youth in Scouts.
    During a Scouting weekend called Nome-N-Back, we gathered for a day up at Home Stake Lake east of Butte. It was winter and one very cold, windy and snowy day. Each patrol had a sled, like Alaskan dog sleds but we scouts were the dogs and one was the rider pusher. The Patrol Leader was me that day and we were the Panther Patrol. We rolled up on to the Fire Building Competition Event.

    The rules were:
    1. Start a fire that burns two strings completely through 1 ft. high & 2 ft.
    2. Two matches allowed
    3. If you need more than two matches, it costs 25 pushups per extra match
    That day was so windy and I was never good at pushups. I couldn’t do more than 50. My Assistant Patrol Leader Rick had to do 150 more pushups before we got the dam fire to ignite and burn both strings. Our arms were noodles. We used a total of 10 matches that day before the fire started. (You can Laugh this part is funny.)
    So, in preparing my fire at the aircraft crash site, I started with the fire pit for this real world situation. I was thinking of my Scout Master Fred and that day when we did so many pushups at Nome-N-Back, never imagining I would ever have to put my skills to use. I dug a hole in the frozen earth kicking snow out of the way, finding as much dry red pine needles and dry twig’s as I could. This served as my foundation much as paper and gas when ignited. Then the bigger branches were layered on top just so perfectly. I made sure I knew which way the wind was blowing and blocked it the best I could. I pulled out the matches. Remember how I said “why do we need matches because if we crashed we were going to die anyway.” But I obeyed my Mom.
    I opened the paper matches and there were only four. I pulled one from its connection and ran it across the striker and it fired. I immediately got it to the red pine needles and away the fire went. For a brief moment I thought of Fred again with humility and silently offered a thought to him:
    “Fred, no one has to do pushups up here today, thanks”. I also thought, “Thanks Mom” which I have never said.
    Now with a little TLC to the blazing fire, I attempted to bring Hollie to it but I couldn’t move her and she couldn’t move any part of her body due to severe pain. I was hoping that while I was starting the fire, whatever was hurting her before would settle down and I could move her. But that was not the case. Her situation was getting worse and I was sort of panicking inside now. I watched Bill continue to keep just mindlessly wondering, then I yelled at him: “HELP YOUR WIFE”! See Bill is normally like MacGyver from a show that was on TV in the 80’s and 90’s.
    He answered: “I can’t.” I noticed he appeared to be in shock and he was favoring his arm. He broke it in the crash plus his face was cut up pretty good.
    Now we have additional issues to the big problem, Hollie cannot move and Bill, who can normally fix or repair anything with anything, was rendered useless.
    Everything is up to me now. I removed my tank top shirt to make a sling for Bills arm and a bandage for his face because he had a lacerated cheek. Now with the fire, since I could not bring Hollie to the blazing fire I had to bring the fire to her. I found a spot near her that I felt was safe from any leaking gas and built the fire there.
    So I performed all the same rituals as the other fire, but it came with glitches. When I pulled the matches out to start the fire all remaining matches wouldn’t ignite, they were wet. I didn’t know what to do and so I was panicking a little and either Hollie or Bill, I think Hollie said: “Why can’t you borrow some burning branches from the first fire to start this one?” My brain couldn’t comprehend that at the time. When the mind becomes overwhelmed it is unbelievable how it reacts or does not react. It is funny now, but then-holy crap.
    We were supposed to be gone for a couple hours. Until recently I thought all pilots had to file a flight itinerary with the local FAA authority when they were renting an aircraft or when flying their own personal aircraft. You know, declare the direction you plan on traveling, when you should return, stops you might make and passengers you plan on taking with you. Bill just rented the plane and the Butte Aviation folks had no record of Hollie or me as occupants.
    According to my parents when we were to turn to Butte from our adventure, Bill was going to give my Mom a ride around the Butte area a couple times. So my Mother was at Butte Aviation around 2: PM waiting our arrival. She waited awhile then asked the aviation clerk of our status. They had no idea at that point of where we were; they thought we were just Bill. Mom informed my Dad that we had not returned, so Dad suggested Mom just return home. My Dad had something that he needed to tell Mom and get off of his mind.
    When Mom returned home, Dad revealed something he had been feeling, something he had been keeping to himself, without knowing anything for sure, he is about to reveal.
    Dad had a feeling he deeply regrets not saying earlier to anyone. Before we even went to the airport earlier in the day, he felt something bad was going to happen and was uneasy about this day’s events. Which he states is not the reason he did not go flying. He did have other commitments that kept him from going, but he regrets not speaking up and telling us that he didn’t feel good about us flying that day.
    So my Dad called or went and visited Butte Aviation and started demanding a little more information. The clerk didn’t seem to want to help too much until my Dad said the magic phrase. “The three of them.” The clerk did not know there were three occupants. They thought it was just one, the pilot, Bill. The clerk started asking about how much we all weighed? Bill around 150-175, I was around 200-210, Hollie was around the same. Now this got the attention of the aviation clerk, because that meant the plane would have run out of fuel quicker. So he did some calling and checking, and within a short time there was notification that indeed an aircraft did go down in the southwestern Montana grid. The clerk gave my Dad the phone number to Sheriff Rick Later of Dillon, Montana who also acts as the Commander of all search and rescues in that area. Sheriff Later told my Dad that his help would not be necessary in the search and my Dads reply was: “Then you better put me in jail because that is the only way to stop me from finding my children.”
    The Sheriff invited Dad to a certain area and offered him limited access to critical information, which helped Dad because he wanted and needed to help.
    Now for the next several hours many things occurred on that mountain, many conversations took place, each one of us probably experienced extreme thoughts of what could possibly happen to us. These are facts though;
    1. I couldn’t seem to retrieve enough campfire wood to last several hours.
    2. Every other time I would go get wood I’d have to remove my boots and socks to warm them by the fire because my feet were frozen.
    3. The wood supply I got lasted about 45 minutes at a time.
    4. There was nothing to drink and we are thirsty. We discussed why not to consume snow in large amounts because our tongues would swell up.
    5. There was nothing to eat, should of listened to Mom.
    6. Discussed in depth about not falling asleep because of the temp’s, may not wake up. Hollie kept nodding off. So we would yell, scream and sing to stay stimulated. We also prayed most of the night.
    7. Talked about our children and how much we love and miss them. I wondered if I would ever see Kevin or Miranda again and our parents along with other siblings.
    8. Talked about how worried they must be. We knew we are OK, but they did not know we were OK and that must be hell. Hoped that we will see them again.
    9. Hollie had to urinate badly but couldn’t. I kept telling her not to pee her pants because she didn’t need wet clothing; but after several hours of agony she convinced me to help her go by pulling her bottoms off and closing my eyes while she relieved herself. She said, “It’s not time for modesty brother.”
    10. Discussions of me going for help, but all three of us had to agree because I was the caregiver basically for both Hollie and Bill and the fire. Plus I did not know those mountains and terrain like Bill did. The answer was no.
    11. On a personal note I did reflect these thoughts; when I was young boy, I was taught by several people to survive both in the wild and partially in life itself. As a species we would hope that every child would have the opportunities I had with my parents and extended family and friends to be taught some essential life survival skills. For instance: Simple things like joining sports and Boy Scouts at a young age and sticking with it no matter how good you were at it. Sitting together for dinner at the kitchen table, with the TV off every night with the entire family is how I was raised. Also never to start fights, never back down from confrontation and defend family at all cost from danger. Never to lie, always tell the truth or there would be stiff consequences. Kiss and hug Mom and Dad every night before bed time and brush your teeth.
    Most every summer I can remember going camping with my parents starting at around age 8 or 9 and we might go with friends or family for a week or the weekend. We would fish, play in the water and get real dirty. Maybe at around age 10 Dad let me start shooting a bb gun. It was a 10 pump Crossman gun single shot. The squirrels never stood a chance.
    The birds got away a lot though, but from time to time we would bring a bird down. My cousins and I.
    Mom and Dad would let me sometimes start the camp fires for cooking as most every kid that age was a fire bug around the camp fires. When I got to about 14 years old, Dad started letting me drive his motorcycle. Then teaching me to drive his big Ford 4X4 Truck.

    Later into the early morning I started burning the airplane’s Plexiglas and fiberglass along with green branches from the trees to expel dark smoke from the fire in hopes that someone watching from somewhere would see our signals. It took me a while to convince myself to destroy the plane any further than it was because I knew there had to be an FAA investigation afterward to see what made that aircraft crash. But, common sense took over along with survival of basic humanity salvation and I said: “Screw the investigation, we are getting located by search and rescue if they are looking for us.”
    Later in the story you will learn that someone very special, OUR Angel spotted the smoke twice coming from my fire. But my smoke seemed to be going up into the tree top canopy, then just hanging like fog and then lingering downward. It never shot straight up like a chimney would out of the ceiling of the trees into the sky. Occasionally, once the sky was light and morning was upon us, sounds would echo from afar and planes and jets would fly overhead but they were too far away and didn’t seem to be looking for us. It may have got to a point that we were even hearing things or wishing we were hearing things because of what you will learn a little later into the story of actually how we were found and rescued. Deep down I knew we were being searched for; we were needles in a hay stack. My family is relentless on the whereabouts of each other’s locations and always have been. A ridiculous paranoia that’s called LOVE. I am like that to this day with my kids.
    If you recall me stating when we first flew into the Jackson’s airspace that Sue was the only person witnessing us flying over the small town. My Dad is the only person that trusted Sue enough to believe what she had said also as much as he wanted to help find us and help with the rescue, he knew that he could not be a part of the official search and rescue team.
    In the event the searchers came upon a grizzly find, Dad has been a volunteer fireman and fire chief and he knows his place and the procedures in such an event.
    As much as we want to, family should not come to save family because we rationalize differently than we normally do with complete strangers. We think, process and lend aid more efficiently to strangers than family. With family it is extremely emotional and gut wrenching, not that complete strangers are without feeling but it is best for all if you make yourself absent until the event is over.
    So Dad put himself to use in other ways. With a trained eye, scanning with binoculars, he kept looking for what seemed like hours and hours along with praying with all that he had, he kept looking in the direction Sue said we went. Asking Heavenly Father for any sign, anything…
    The three of us had spent close to 23 hours in subzero temperatures and time isn’t on anyone’s side, but I am dam determined that I will not let anything happen to my sister or her husband. We are in the hands of God. We are so cold, thirsty and wanting to be home so bad. I kept thinking of my babies Kevin & Randa.
    Apparently, once the official search got started my parents were nuts and so were friends and family members in Butte and around the country who were aware of our situation. Our emergency signal was not showing our correct position because the plane landed upside down. The National Transportation Safety Board with its protocol and satellite tracking system showed our location 10 miles SW of our actual location. This contradicts what Sue told the searchers and my parents told Butte Aviation’s people. But there are rules to official search and rescue and strict protocols. But again our Dad, who wasn’t invited to tag along kept his field glasses fixed on the mountains and after several endless moments he later states he thought he saw a trickle of what appeared to be smoke coming from the trees miles away from his location.
    Then the smoke, or what appeared to be smoke, stopped as if it was an illusion his own mind created but he has patient. I’ve been fishing and hunting with this man several times in my life and he could wait anything out.

    It can drive you nuts at times on how patient my Dad can be. My Grandpa Perry taught him and my uncles hard but funny lessons on patience, but this time it paid off, because he saw another trickle of my smoke come up from the trees in the same spot and I guess my Dad couldn’t be silenced any longer. Later my Dad told me a silent voice spoke to him as his prayers were answered, “now go get them”. He demanded to be heard and the search and rescuers listened.
    God did send an Angel to watch over us besides my Grandpa Perry and it was our Dad, supplied only with determination, binoculars and unconditional love with an extra supply of love sent along from our mother and the strength of Heaven.
    A helicopter was dispatched in our direction. Bill and I heard the helicopter coming our way and ran into a small clearing west of us jumping up and down, doing jumping jacks, anything to be seen. The chopper circled a couple times looking for a place to land. They did not land in that small clearing close to the crash site. They landed approximately 75 yards away from the wreckage maybe further east. I felt an adrenaline rush seeing them. We were all super pumped and excited.
    I learned after the fact that when the pilot spotted Bill and me he radioed the Command Center regarding his find. My Dad was in ear shot of the radio transmission and what my Dad heard prematurely was: “We have spotted one then spotted two survivors.” That was Incident number 1 in which my Dad shouldn’t of been present, the rescue pilot just couldn’t see Hollie yet. My Dads heart sunk wondering what child have I lost.
    Relief finally arrived, approximately 23 hours after we had almost became memories to many family and friends on that frozen mountain south of Jackson Montana bordered by mountain ranges next to Salmon Idaho: One U.S. Air Force Search and Rescue Helicopter out of Malmstrom AFB, MT and many men on snow mobiles from the Dillon, Jackson, Wisdom and Wise River Valley. It was a small Army of Rescuers. A Site for Soar Eyes.

    PART 3
    The helicopter crew was a pilot, a triage nurse and 1 or 2 staff if memory serves me, all of which are highly trained in emergency first aid. As they were assessing our injuries and damages a wild pack of snowmobile riders descended on us. My numbers may be exaggerated but it seemed to be around 10 or 12 snowmobilers. I believe their training and expertise is qualified as well. I found out later that one of those rescuers was a former Olympian that did cross-country skiing and shot rifles in competition. These rescuers offered us food, warm drinks and water for immediate nourishment which was much needed. They tended to essential life threatening first aid needs which will be revealed soon in this story.
    Each one of us was getting our own special attention from small groups of rescuers. Hollie needed the most attention due to not being able to stand without screaming pain. Bill needed attention to his face and arm, and I simply needed warmth and dry footwear as mine, if you remember, I started out having treadles cowboy boots that were a tad ventilated. I believe they also gave me some thermal underwear and new pants as well?
    The rescuers had Hollie placed on a gurney, but the terrain was slightly slanted and there were three men on each side carrying her. When they picked her up and started to move they started to slip and almost dropped her because of the slipperiness of the snow and slush created by the all night fire. She almost flipped into the fire face down is what I observed but the carriers regained their grip, balance and the gurney and safely gained control and never almost lost my sister again.
    My heart sunk though when I witnessed that. My thoughts were: “I did what I could all night long to keep her alive and you people are going to treat her like this, I think not.”
    These guys carefully made an approximate 75 yard carry to the helicopter treading knee high snow and crawling over fallen trees which is not easy even for a single person carrying their own body weight plus survival gear. Once the chopper was reached and Hollie was secured inside.
    The pilot informed me that I had to stay behind and if I minded going out on one of the snowmobiles with a ground rescuer? Reason being is even though the weight the helicopter can carry is great.
    The crew they already had and the two they had picked up (Hollie & Bill), one more body (mine) would be too excessive for the distance they had yet to fly with remaining fuel to arrive safely.
    The decision for me was a no brainer, my sister was hurt bad and Bill was the husband, of course I will stay behind. Several moments after the helicopter left the downed aircraft accident scene, another radio communications incident occurred where my Dad was present (Incident Number 2). The helicopter pilot radioed the Command Center. He stated that he was leaving the site and that there were three victims, one who had no injuries, one with minimal injuries and one with very serious injuries.
    My Dad heard this transmission, so when the helicopter lands briefly to refuel near the Command Center my Dad is allowed to look inside the helicopter. When the helicopter doors opened, Dad sees Bill and Hollie. Hollie if you remember was the absolute very worse hurt of all three of us. However with the bits and pieces of information Dad had at that second, just those two and no information on me. At that same second he was also told that Bill and Hollie were fine by someone within the Command Center or the helicopter to ease his mind. Dad’s world crumbled. He became very upset and confused now and started crying, assuming I was critically injured or even deceased so he assumed the worst.
    But quickly my Dad was brought up to speed that I was fine and could not come out in the helicopter due to the extra weight and lack of fuel remaining. Then the helicopter took off again with Hollie and Bill for the hospital. He was also told that Hollie was the worst of the three of us and she needed to go, and was stabilized and fine for now, however all of us were recovered alive.
    Meanwhile, once my rescuers made me safe and warm I was secured on the back of someone’s snowmobile and away we went. My mind was fuzzy and all over the place dwelling on my sister and what the three of us just experienced. I was afraid for the first time. The ride back to wherever we were going seemed way too fast for me. I peered over the drivers shoulder and he was only going about 30 mph. Which is normally OK, but for what we just went through I couldn’t handle it.
    I tapped on the rescuer’s shoulder and asked him to slow down, I felt petrified. He did slow down and the other snowmobilers sped off ahead of us, I was hoping my driver knew where he was going now. But my personal driver did make me feel safe. I was dropped off at a stranger’s house in the rural Jackson area that treated me, not like a stranger at all.
    These nameless people gave me shelter, warmth and peace. These people offered me a shower and I accepted, the warm water felt like needles piercing me. They offered me a meal, I just took a heated can of soup and drove back out there a week or two later and paid it back. They said, you didn’t have to do that which I knew. I just wanted to see them on much different circumstances and thank them.
    But, as a going away treat to this horrible nightmare that I was not expecting at all or was prepared for by anybody, my Dad and my Uncle Duane were waiting for me at this stranger’s house. I starting crying like an infant or as I did when I saw my baby children for the first time when they were born to their Mom and me. There is nothing like a Father’s Love. My Dad has always made me feel safe like when you had nightmares as a kid and crawled into bed with them and the nightmares went away. There is no place safer in my eyes than that, and Moms help the pain go away or teach you how to deal with it and make you feel better. Children can also have the same affect for the parents if the parents show their children how to love and care. I could not seem to let go of my Dad. I remember I kept hugging him and crying. I knew now I was in a safe place, my nightmare was over.
    Later that afternoon as we were driving back to Butte, I know we both did a lot of crying, storytelling, confessing of events that had just took place along with who was involved for physical and emotional support. Dad spoke about some of his and Mom’s afternoon and night before but he did not elaborate too much because he never wants to burden the already suffering mind. We spoke of Grandma Retta and Grandpa Perry and how I felt Grandpa was one of my angels watching out for me out there helping us survive. We also spoke of the horrible event when Uncle John passed away in 1972 in Idaho and how horrible it was on the entire family. I was thinking of my children Kevin age 5 and Miranda age 4 on how they almost lost me again that day, forever this time not just to a divorce. I know there were a few moments of silence during our ride home, plus I was so tired, so I tried to rest.
    But when I got home to Butte, I couldn’t wait to see my Mom because nothing is like hugging and getting loved from your Mommy at any age.
    If you remember me saying, Mommies make it all feel better and my Mom was no different than any other Mom. I just knew she would open her arms for me with a warm welcome. Then I couldn’t wait to see my sister I struggled to keep with us.
    After I got myself together, at Mom and Dad’s house, I went and visited Hollie in the Hospital. While walking through the door to here room, I was calling out for my her, “lil survivor”, her roommate an older lady who kept interrupting, thinking I was talking to her, kept saying something like “what, me?” Hollie was giggling, no it’s my brother, and he saved our lives after our airplane crash.
    Hollie couldn’t catch a break in those days, airplane crash, annoying roommates. Anyway, Hollie was diagnosed and the reason why she hurt so badly was because in the wreck she broke her pelvis in seven spots. I will give you a second to let that sink in. Yes seven (7) spots. Her bodies’ core temperature was also recorded at 80 degree’s after our rescue. Some at the ER thought she wasn’t going to make it, but I knew our Hollie would, hence the nickname, “lil survivor”. Plus all the multiple automobile accidents she’s been involved in prior to this airplane accident. It’s the only thing she can do, is make it. Hollie was requesting to see Joshua while in the ER and usually then or even now babies are not allowed in ER’s unless caregivers or providers believe the patient is not going to pull through. None of the family knew this information at the time except our Aunt June who was an LPN at the Hospital. The ER allowed Joshua to come back. People with core temperatures of what Hollie had usually can’t turn around and or recover from it. Again, Hollie wouldn’t allow herself to be taken.
    When Hollie and our Mom saw each other afterward Mom was so emotional, like most people were, and still are regarding that awful experience. But Mom shared her deepest wishes, thoughts and desires and cries for mercy that night her and my Dad experienced as they had to wait through the night until morning came. Mom said she would be outside in the subzero temperatures having a cigarette and swearing she could hear Hollie crying out for her in the night over and over, a 100 miles away, then Dad would convince her to come inside where it was warm consoling each other and putting each other back together and praying to Heavenly Father.
    Mom later asked Hollie if she was crying out for Mom and Hollie said yes she was, then Mom said to me “but I never heard you cry out for me Leonard at all.”
    My answer simply was, I do Love you Mom with all my heart, “I was too busy trying to keep us alive gathering wood, keeping the fire going to keep us warm and alive.”
    To this day 23 some years later having this conversation with my parents is still heart breaking as if it just happened. They suffered so greatly that day and night.
    Then about a year and a half later, maybe 2 years, Hollie gave birth naturally to her second child without any chemicals, somewhat recovered from seven breaks in her pelvis region. This is the toughest woman I or you will ever meet in our lives. Was there blood curdling screams during the birth? Hell yes, I was there in the waiting room and through three walls that separated us, I heard her scream giving birth to Matthew; and there were other witnesses to the event. I heard the screams, but with the third child I heard there were drugs involved. LOL
    By the love and grace of our Heavenly Father above, and through the belief and sight of my Dad being there, you’ve witnessed he needed to be there, in that Jackson Montana Valley for us to be found all along, ALIVE.


    This was an experience writing and re-living all over again. Nearly 24 years ago my family almost lost a brother, sister, son, cousin, friend, father and a new mother. I hope this true story can provide insight and guidance to love and survival.

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