27 March, 2014

Neoteric Hovercraft aid Washington mudslide search & rescue efforts

Our thoughts are with the people of Oso, Washington, and with the first responders assisting them after the massive mudslide that devastated the community on Saturday. Thankfully, Snohomish County Fire District’s two Neoteric rescue hovercraft are on the scene to help first responders navigate the dismal search conditions.

The square-mile debris field, 30-40 feet deep in places and contaminated with bacteria and chemicals, has been described as “quicksand-like muck, rain-slickened mud and ice”, making it difficult to navigate on foot and near impossible to bring in heavy equipment. When the 20-foot wall of mud collapsed, trees that were 50-60 feet tall were tossed like toothpicks and thrown hundreds of yards.

Even rescuers are having to be rescued: firefighters who waded into the mud became stuck up to their armpits and had to be pulled out by ropes. As Senator Patty Murray stated, “People are putting their own lives at risk in the search and rescue.

Fortunately, the hovercraft are able to access areas no other vehicle can reach – and they’re keeping the first responders above the danger rather than mired within it.

(SeattlePI/Joshua Trujillo)

The death toll has now reached 24, and scores of victims are still missing. But hopes for finding survivors have faded and the mission is now considered a recovery operation rather than a rescue. “The situation is very grim,” said Chief Travis Hots of Snohomish County Fire District 21, “The mud is so compressed in houses that it’s like concrete.”

(Associated Press/Rick Wilking)

Aerial view of mudslide. Associate Press/Ted S. Warren)
In addition to the hovercraft, helicopters, search dogs, sonar and technical teams are being used to search for victims. And yesterday, two Washington National Guard Blackhawk helicopters arrived to assist. But Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, said “The Blackhawks’ sole mission is body removal.”

Even though the news reports that it would be a miracle to find survivors at this point, we at Neoteric send our hopes that just such a miracle will occur – regardless of the rescue vehicle that performs it.

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