Back in my flying days, I read with interest stories of airplane accidents. Several months following an accident, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) usually issued a detailed and very complete report on what led up to the accident. More often than not, the accident was not a sudden, traumatic event causing an accident. But rather a decision made by the pilot or an incident occurring several hours before the event that led to disaster. Maybe it was failure to top off a fuel tank, or a decision to fly in spite of a bad weather report. Sometimes it is a culmination of seemingly insignificant decisions or events that result in a “tipping point” leading to an unfortunate conclusion.
Last Friday, my 18 year old grandson received a call for help from one of his friends. It seems the friend was stranded in a remote area. “Can you come pull me out, we’re stuck in the snow?”
My grandson filled me in on what was happening and I quickly loaded him with tow strap, extra gasoline, and a few other items we thought would come in handy. His 4 x 4 Toyota Tacoma is equipped with traction tires and is in good running order. He had already contacted another friend to accompany him on the mission.
It seems as though the stranded friend was on his way home from college for the weekend when a multi-vehicle accident had clogged the interstate. He and his companion had made a decision to cut across the Coast Range mountains of Southwestern Oregon from Grants Pass to the Coast. Normally this Forest Service/BLM road is easily passable in a car, but this time of year, there is often snow accumulation at the higher elevations. Things went pretty well for about an hour after leaving the Interstate, that is until the pair reached one of those higher elevations. Topping a hill, they ran into snow, and then plowed their way down hill. All was good until they came to another rise, this one covered in deeper snow which stalled their two-wheel drive car. Turning around, they found they were unable to climb back up the snow-covered road and there they were, unable to go either way.
Providence had smiled on the stranded couple by granting cell phone service even in this remote area. Those of us who play in the backcountry know all too well coverage can be sketchy at best in many locations. In this case, they were able to successfully make a call for help.
When I interviewed the young man, he said they were equipped with some granola bars, some bottles of water and a few bottles of Gatorade. Even if they had to spend the night, there were also blankets in the car. He agreed leaving the Interstate wasn’t the best plan, but at the time he and his companion agreed they could save some time taking the back roads when their option was to wait four hours for the traffic to clear.
This story has a happy ending for several reasons. Cell phone coverage made it possible to call for help. The rescue team was able to reach the stranded vehicle and get them back onto a bare, snow-free road. Finally the stranded pair, although making a questionable decision to use the back roads, had enough snack food, drinks and blankets to survive a short time without major discomfort.
I was reminded of the family from San Francisco a few years back who became lost in this same general area. They had tried to take a similar shortcut and lost their way in the maze of logging roads and ultimately were stranded by snowfall. After nine days the husband/father struck out on foot to seek rescue. His body was found a few days later. The mother and both children survived.
This kind of story has always fascinated me. The little things folks do or didn’t do can make a difference between survival or not. And many times those choices are made hours or even days before the event. The lesson is this: When you venture out into the arms of Mother Nature, be wise, she’s not always in a nurturing mood.
As always, send your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Dave Robinson is a retired Postmaster and lives in Myrtle Point, Oregon. He is the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of US,” available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.