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.

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42 Responses to “THE ACCIDENT AT CANYON DE CHELLY”

  1. dabaudoin said

    Oh, wow. I will be keeping you all in my prayers.

  2. I have been following this and am sending prayers your way!

  3. Mary, thanks for the detailed report of that terrible accident !! The pictures were very helpful, it made following the events much easier !! I’m sure they will be very helpful to the people on your tour as well to the people that might be investigating the accident !! You and Jim continue to recover quickly and enjoy more sight seeing !! Love Sue

  4. 2gadabout said

    Thanks to everyone for your prayers and interest.

  5. Natalie said

    Mary, thank you very much for writing this blog. Your details and photos have been very helpful to have a clearer picture of the days events. My heart goes out to everyone that was effected by the accident. I can say very proudly Beau is my husband. It is wonderful to know that his training in Afghanistan and Iraq were able to bring some comfort to those you were with. Your words are very kind, and I know that he will be touched. Sincerely, Natalie

    • 2gadabout said

      Natalie, I’m so glad you contacted me. Everyone will want to know and thank him. I expect to hear from others about their current condition. In the rush, we get names wrong and don’t stop to think to get addresses and such, but our hearts go out to all of those who experienced the worst. The other nameless people on the tour were also very important and I hope they somehow know we appreciated their efforts. Hugs to you and Beau.

      • Aggie Spencer said

        May the Great Creator be with all of you. We learned of the accident and were horrified to find out how long it took to get the victims out. My condolences to the family of Richard. Thank you to Beau and the rest of the people who helped. My prayers are with you -

    • springbok7 said

      Natalie, please relay to Beau my huge “Thank you” for doing all he could try and save Dr. Crowe. He was my professor at UH-Hilo, he was my adviser in the physics program, and he was my colleague for a time, when I started working in the astronomy community. He was also one of several friends we have who play in the county band. While I am extremely sadden about this accident and the senselessness of it, I am so very grateful that your husband was there to help and I am grateful that no one else was lost, and I’m sure that is due to your husband and everyone else who assisted.

      Mary, Jim, thank you for posting these blogs. I don’t know if you know how much it helps to read these, while trying to wrap my mind around what happened. Thank you.

      Miranda in Hilo

      • Natalie said

        I’ve passed your message to Beau. He was deeply affected by Mr. Crowe’s passing. I know that Mr. Crowe will forever be in his memory. Beau feels very lucky to have been with such good people on this tradegic day. He has said that everyone’s actions on that day made a world of difference. I hope that healing, both physical and spiritual may be swift for all.

  6. Thank you for documenting this tragedy. It is helpful to those of us grieving for Richard, out in Hawaii to understand what happened.
    I you and everyone else involved recovers quickly.
    Sarah

    • 2gadabout said

      Everyone felt so bad about what happened to this wonderful,talented man. It is such a helpless feeling to be unable to do anything more.

  7. Jennie said

    Thank you for posting this blog so quickly. I have stopped to take pictures before for the sake of documentation. At the time people don’t understand and are angry. Years later I have had many thanks because it’s the only record they have of what happened. I am thanking you right now for taking the time to get these pictures and paint a story of what really went down from a first person perspective. It has helped bring me closure. Dr. Crowe was a professor of mine and directly helped me with my career path in Astronomy. I’m going to miss his quirky humor and dedication.

  8. Brenda said

    Dr. Richard Crowe was my girlfriend’s brother….He was a great man in which I had the privilege to meet and be in his presence a few times…..when he was in Canada…..He touched my heart as I know he did to so many he knew….. Lets keep his family in our prayers, those that are recovering from this terrible accident and to those that assist, in this ordeal, we give you an endless amount of thanks! Blessings!

  9. TJWyatt said

    I have walked in beauty in the canyon many times, and am very saddened by these events. My sympathies to all the victims. So sorry that this accident has marred their trip to a very special place.

  10. Randy said

    Get well soon sweet people—-beautifully documented tragedy—allowing us all to participate and send our support.

  11. Carolyn Ibele said

    Thank you Mary and Jim for posting this blog. It helps to understand what happened and bring closure. It helps me to try to live this experience with Richard and Deby and feel their pain. I want to especially thank Beau for his assistance in trying to sustain my beloved brother, Richard. Praise the Lord you were there Beau to help with your medical knowledge. We are so thankful to you for your dedication. Everyone has an appointed time and this unfortunately for us, was Richard’s. We see through a glass darkly but one day all wil be clear. Thank you all for your prayers and sympathies. We will continue to take each day at a time and are grateful for the memories of Richard and the time we had with him. He was a wonderful individual and touched lives wherever he went.

    Blessings, Carolyn Ibele
    (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)

    • Natalie said

      Beau wishes very much there was more that could have done to help Richard. We send our prayers to your family.

      • 2gadabout said

        Emotionally, we all feel a let down when our efforts are lost. But, life is fragile and we must move on. Thanks, Beau and also, Steve, who took turns during the CPR.

  12. Megan Ross said

    Dear Mary,
    Your account was difficult to read and harder to view through photos, but as I said to Jim, you are doing a great service to the community. You are preventing hurtful rumors and untruths.
    Canyon de Chelly is the life and livelihood of this community. What happens in the canyon touches everyone. You all are in our thoughts and prayers.
    Megan Ross

    • Katashia Arthur said

      No truer words, Megan. I heard so many versions of what happened that I am glad I was linked to this post. I hope all involved will be able to remember the beauty before the tragedy in time.

  13. Andrea said

    In a strange way I’m greatful for this blog. The woman standing with a backboard is my Mother, Margaret. Her friend, Anita thought she was dead until she was pulled out (last, I think). I thought 4 hrs to be rescued was unreasonable until I saw your pictures and all the people working so hard to help. It also gave me some perspective as to the severity of the accident. Thank you so much to those who helped take care of the 2 women who always take such good care of my family. Mom will be ok. She has several broken ribs and will get to come home to California soon as the doctors let her. Thank you again, for the rescue efforts and the perspective.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I am a friend of the late Richard Crowe and his sister, Carolyn. He leaves behind his wife and four children. He was a resident of Hawaii. This blog is valuable to his family and helps to bring clarity and closure to the tragedy. May God bless your heart!

  15. 2gadabout said

    We are so deeply affected and so sorry for Dr. Crowe’s family and friends. No one knows how much a single life means in this vast world, to his family, his friends, his community. We never know how many lives have been touched until that star has winked out and is gone.

  16. Navajo Boy said

    Wow, I had no idea that this happened. It reminds me of the Old Navajo Stories of the Cliff Dwelling Rock Being who kicked people off the edges as they tried to pass. These places are spiritual sites and many people come to take pics and view these places but no one makes offering or leave prayers here anymore. Lessons learned. Prayers and good thoughts to all involved for healing and closure.

  17. Ashley said

    Thank you for posting this story. Two of the most important women in my life were involved in this horrific accident. My mom Margaret and her Best Friend Anita were the ones involved, they got separated and taken to different hospitals not knowing each others fate. I am glad to say that Margaret should be released from the hospital soon and they will be back on their way home to us in California. Our continued prayers and Thanks goes out to everyone that was involved and helped all of the injured.

    • Aggie Spencer said

      I am so glad all is well with your mother and her friend. The tragedy happened in our hometown and we were devastated over the loss. Our prayers for continued healing and recovery of your mother and others. God bless -

  18. toni o'connell said

    he started many love habits…my thoughts are with you

  19. Margaret said

    My name is Margaret and I was the last one excavated from the wreckage on that horrible afternoon. I wanted to personally thank the folks that came down that long hill to offer us the assistance we needed. I do not know your names, but you will forever be in my thoughts and you have my deepest gratitude. I only remember saying to myself; “I am not going to die today!”, and you helped me be successful. I have been released from the hospital and returned home to California with 7 broken ribs and one very broken heart. My friend Anita is also home and dealing with the trauma and terror of this entire event. Our hearts go out to everyone involved and our wishes for safe journies home and complete recoveries.

    • 2gadabout said

      Glad to hear from you Margaret. I was watching when they finally got you out and how hard that was for you. Now we know why. Ribs take a long time to heal and we can be thankful the meds and time will assist the body’s amazing capacity to heal. Hugs from afar.

      • Margaret said

        Thanks so much! Love from family and friends is proving to be the best medicine right now. Hope you are doing well.

  20. 2gadabout said

    We are hoping to be able to drive the motor home by Tuesday. Jim is the main driver and also had ribs bruised and a muscle pull in his rib area. Makes driving difficult on twisty roads, but we are doing well. Thanks.

  21. Anita said

    My name is Anita and I was probably one of the first to dig my way out from under the vehicle. Thanks to whomever helped me by pulling my feet. My friend Margaret is healing at home and I am also recovering. A special thank you to all the Virginia students for giving us water and encourgement. Thanks to all the emergency personnel who worked under such horrible conditions. God bless you all. To all the victim, a speedy physical and emotional recovery. To Richard’s family, my heart is broken for your loss.

  22. Susan Moore said

    Thank you so very much for the pictures and your blog information. I am a friend of Richard’s family, I had just met him days before this accident. I pray for all the people involved that day and trust God will make great things come from the pain of this accident. Thank you again for all the information, I know it’s appreciated by many.

    • 2gadabout said

      Thank you. I’m glad we posted after all is said and done; it was the right thing to do.

    • 2gadabout said

      This message is for Richarad and Debbie Laszok. It is hard to believe, when I think about the accident, how each person fared. And, I’m so sorry for all of the pain and aftermath the two of you have yet to suffer through. My heart goes out to you both. Debbie’s sense of humor was just one bright note that day; that she could muster that reply to keep you from injuring yourself more was an act of love. Beau, the medic who marshaled all of us, from taking pulses and writing down injuries, to making numerous decisions about not moving people, etc,and etc. was with that same second tour group. His wife Natalie has corresponded via the blog. Natalie, if you are still reading, please inform those girls and that young gentleman, if you can, how much appreciated their help was during Richard’s hours on the ground waiting. The only person we have not heard from at this point is Don Cassidy, the man who jumped and alerted the first group of rescuers to our fate. I repeat, heroes are not born, they are made by circumstances. Love to you all. Mary

  23. Hi Mary,

    I just red what has happen to you and your husband, I am sorry, hope you are getting better and keep on posting.
    We appreciated very much you taking pictures of our daughter Essya’s accident and posting them,( Black monday) to eveyone to know the wrong and careless of the driver Lawson III of Coos Bay.
    Mary you are in our thoughts, and Essya talk highly of you.
    All the best
    Belaid

    • 2gadabout said

      Thank you for your kind wishes on our behalf. It turns out that taking pictures of both accidents was the right thing to do. The authorities have used the pictures of my own accident for their investigation too.

  24. Elizabeth said

    Hi Mary,

    My name is Elizabeth and I am Essya’s mother. I am truly, truly sorry to hear of this horrific accident. I send my most sincere condolences to Richard’s family and friends, as well as my heartfelt well wishes for a full and speedy recovery for you, Jim and the others. After having ourselves experienced a very difficult moment after Essya and her friend Martha were struck by a car while cycling along the Oregon Bike Trail (and of which the physical/psychological repercussions of that accident are still very much a day-to-day reality), I also wish to thank you on your foresight and wisdom in choosing to take photographs at the scene of both accidents (yours in the Canyon and that of Essya’s on the Oregon Bike Trail). As much as this may have been difficult for you at the time, without these, the clarity of the recollection of the traumatic moments would soon be opaque and likely distorted (as blanketing the trauma is the body’s way of safeguarding itself). Thus, these photographs become valuable in assisting with the piecing together of what happened and an aid to the judicial/legal systems.

    Please know that my thoughts are with you and your companions and their families who are mending from this tragedy.

    • 2gadabout said

      Thank you very much for your encouragement. I Was very unsure when Essya and Martha were hit, but no longer. I know now it was the right thing to do. As you know, things like this are very traumatic, and we heal bodily, but the psychological affects can be devastating like the Crowe’s family and others. Jim and I were part of the lucky ones. Thank you for writing.

  25. Hi Mary,

    My daughter and I just returned from a two day tour of Canyon De Chelly. As we neared the end of the canyon floor tour the guide stopped the truck, got out and and told us effective Dec 1 the Natiional Park Service was taking over all the tours. We experienced some mechanical problems with the vehicle we were in and had to switch to another truck. That one also had problems, the driver could not get it out of four wheel drive and without stopping at the stop sign crossed the highway and cntinued on to the lodge. I’d hate to see the Navajo’s loose their jobs, but I feel the tour trucks are unsafe and need to be replaced.

    • 2gadabout said

      Hi Carol,
      Thanks for writing and letting me know. The trucks are Korean War Vintage and are definitely old. I expect it is time to replace them. I’m sorry to see the Navajos lose their jobs, too. It is sad that after many years and over a 1000 safe trips into the canyon with those trucks, that another solution couldn’t be found. But, who am I to second guess the decisions made by the powers that be? Despite the accident, I loved the canyon tour in that open-bed truck. There was such freedom of movement, 360* picture taking ability; one could see the sky, the heights, all the way around. It was wonderful. I still think profoundly about the many serious injuries people suffered. And, in fact, I suffered some loss of hearing and balance, since regained, and a blood clot attributed to the accident from the blow on the head. It was not detectible at the time I visited the emergency room. But, I’m well and mending. Jim was in touch with Bill Repshur and Sofie. She still has many months of therapy ahead of her and is walking with a cane. I’d like to know how others are doing, but I know they are more damaged than we and perhaps don’t have the same positive feelings about that tour as I do. I so appreciate you telling me about the changes coming and your experience with the tour.

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