THE ACCIDENT AT CANYON DE CHELLY
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 well 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 dam tour. With her sense of humor intact, he was then calm enough to quit trying to get up and move about.
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.