July 29, 2009
Hiking Tragedy Through My Eyes By Katrina
Tommy & his Big Sis Katrina
My family and I were hiking up Mount Lassen on July 29. We had befriended a few families while hiking and had just met a man about two miles up the mountain who was going to ski down the mountain. After talking to him we hiked farther up and watched the man ski down the mountain from a distance. I got a sudden burst of energy and decided to get ahead a ways so that I could stop and take a break later when I got out of breath. My brother, Tommy, came with me. After a while, I stopped and sat down on the side of the path and put my bag down behind me. Tommy, who had lagged behind a ways, was coming up the path and I swung my legs over the side of the retaining wall to face him. He looked like he was bracing himself to climb the wall to sit by me and I started laughing and told him to go around. He looked up at me and smiled. Then he rounded the corner, sat down next to me and swung his legs over the side too. He was so happy with himself to get this far and had a huge smile on his face. We watched our mom, sister, and dad who was carrying our dog, Bear, climb the path. I looked down to change the song on my iPod and when I looked up I saw my sister round the corner. She pointed at a few small rocks rolling out from under the retaining wall and said, “Look a mini avalanche.” A ways behind her my mom and dad were waving and we waved back.
My sister was about to sit down next to Tommy when I heard a scream and felt myself being flung forward. I closed my eyes and when I opened them again I was on my side facing the mountain. I couldn’t feel anything. In seconds my dad was there and he rolled me onto my back. I heard him screaming franticly “Somebody help us!”. Then my mom was there holding my head. The only thing I could see was my dad covered in my own blood and one of my brother’s feet. All of a sudden, the feeling came back to my body and I realized I was drowning. My mom and dad realized this at the same time and tilted my head up so that I could spit out the blood. I looked over at Tommy and saw that he was in a fetal position, screaming and kicking my leg. My sister, Brittany, came down to where we were, crying hysterically. My dad started yelling, “Get off the wall!” while my mom yelled “Help us!” Then my dad looked down at me and asked me if I was ok. I realized I could move my arms and legs and gave him a thumbs up. I heard Tommy say, “Mommy, I can’t see.”
Finally, a few of the people around us came to help. Tommy, who had started to slide down the mountain, was pulled back up so that they could begin CPR. I heard that someone was going to lead Brittany down the mountain and she left. My dad repeatedly told me to spit the blood out at him and asked if I was ok. Each time I would spit and give him a thumbs up. The pain in my face was overwhelming. After a while I started to get worried that I might have brain damage so I started doing the multiplication tables and a few songs that I learned in forth grade in my head to test my memory. I stopped when I heard a horrible gurgling sound coming in Tommy’s direction. I realized that it was because they were doing CPR. The noise still really scared me.
Finally, I don’t know how long later, the helicopter came. I heard someone say to my mom, “We’re going to take your daughter up first.” I felt relief that I could finally be taken to the hospital and scared for my brother. They lifted me onto a sling and strapped me in well. They didn’t cover my eyes though, so as the helicopter flew away I could see the mountains and the sky around me. I was slowly lifted up beside the helicopter where I stayed for the rest of the trip. When the helicopter landed I was rolled over and put into the next one. In that helicopter they numbed me and I felt so much relief that I started to fall asleep. The people in the helicopter made sure I stayed awake and every time my eyes would drift closed they would tell me to open them and to stay awake.
We eventually landed and I was rolled into the hospital. I heard someone ask “Do we know who she is?”. Then, they started repeatedly guessing and asking me what my name was. I tried to tell them but everything came out as mumbles. They put staples in my head, and stitches and needles in my arm. Eric Rudnick, a family friend, came after a while and asked me if I knew who he was. I mumbled a response and they seemed to take that as a yes. I kept throwing up blood and they tried sticking tubes down my throat, but I gagging on them. Then I had a cat scan done and was rolled into another room where I spent the night. That night was hard. My nose was clogged up so I had to use my mouth to breath. I had so much blood still in my mouth that I sounded like I was gurgling mouthwash as I breathed. I woke up hourly and was constantly poked with needles.
Morning finally came, and my mom and dad came in to see me. It took almost all of my energy just to choke out, “Happy Birthday Daddy.” He smiled at me and looked like he was about to cry. I turned to my mom and asked “How is Tommy?” She looked depressed and said that he was lifted away in the helicopter. That’s when I realized that he was gone.
The Day I Can’t Forget By Brittany Botell
In the morning, my dad tried to wake me up. He could not get me up, so he pretended to eat all of the doughnuts. That got me up! We drove toward Mt. Lassen. We stopped at a store and got a map. My mom, dad, and Katrina got coffee while my brother and I got Dibs ice cream. We drove the rest of the way. During the drive, Dad asked for a dib, we already ate them all! We were close to Mt Lassen when Mom spotted a heart on the mountain made of snow. It was cool! At the bottom of Mt. Lassen, my brother and I played in the snow and Mom took pictures of us. Katrina was holding Bear in her purse.
There was a dark cloud above us and we could hear thunder. Mom was a bit worried but said that we would not go back unless it starts raining. Higher up the mountain we could see beautiful lakes and mountains. We had a snack. We had fiber one bars, and fruit snacks that taste like rubber to Mom, Dad, and Katrina. Tommy kept calling them rubbers. Mom took more pictures of Bear, Dad, Tommy, Katrina, and me. Two other families went up with us, one had a baby and the other family had a girl who really liked Bear. We saw a person that was skiing down the hill on a strip of snow. He wanted to get to know Bear because Bear has a Facebook.
We went up a bit further. At about 0.8 miles from the top, there was a rock wall. Katrina was sitting on the wall. Tommy was walking with me. He ran ahead to sit next to her. I went up the path to sit on wall with them. When I tried to sit on the wall, it started to tip. I was flung backwards. Katrina got flung forward. Tommy got his foot caught by the rock and got smashed, at least that is what I think. All I saw was the rock rolling down the hill until it was out of sight. Then I looked down and Tommy and Kat were on the trail below. Kat was bleeding so much it was pouring out of her head. I could barely see the outline of her face, dad was yelling at the top of his lungs screaming like I never heard him before. Tommy was lying there not moving. I ran down there crying. So many people were around Kat that I decided to sit by Tommy because he was hurt too though you could not see any blood. When Tommy started going down the hill dad held him by his pants. That is when he saw the cut on Tommy’s leg. It went ¾ around and we saw right to the bone, but the weird thing is that it was not bleeding.
Then a nice woman walked me down. When I got down the park rangers started questioning me. They were trying to make it look like it was our fault. They were asking if we were pushing the wall, if we were jumping on the wall and if we were trying to make it fall. It made me mad. We are not bad kids. We like nature. After that, someone made me a really good peanut butter sandwich. I made a friend down at the bottom of the mountain, but all I could think of was mom coming down and saying, “Brittany, your brother and sister are dead.” It started raining and I got really worried about my family. Then I saw the helicopters come to get them. When my mom finally came down the first thing she said was “Brittany, Tommy did not make it.” We cried for a long time. Then they questioned us one by one. By the time we left, it was getting late. It was a scary drive to the hospital, because one time dad slammed on the brakes saying that it should have been him. We had to calm him down so that we could get to the hospital. I was not allowed to see Katrina the first and second day. The days in the hospital blurred together. The pain and the sadness mixed, making for the worst experience that ever happened to me. This is my side of my family’s tragedy.
A Mother’s Worst Nightmare by Tommy’s Mommy
My family and I have always been the type of family that enjoys the outdoors. We love to fish, camp, and hike. On July 29 2009, our camping adventure turned into a family’s worst nightmare. I got up that morning and packed peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, granola bars, and water. Our goal for the day was to hike Lassen Peak Trail and have a nice picnic lunch at the top. My son, Tommy, grabbed his Ranger Rick Binoculars. He wanted to see if he could spot Red Bluff from the peak. This was to be our third hike up to the peak in the last four years. It has some of the most magnificent views of the area as you hike up the trail, but the real reward is the view from the top. It is simply breathtaking.
We started up the trail, talking to other families as we hiked. We made several stops to drink water and have snacks. My son kept reminding me that “a hydrated Scout is a happy Scout.” Along the way, we stopped to take pictures for people and they returned the favor for us. We were getting to the last part of the trail, known as the switchbacks. My kids went up ahead of us. Tommy turned around and said, “Mommy, I am doing really good, huh?” I said, “Yes, you are, buddy.” Katrina and Tommy sat on a retaining wall and Brittany was standing up behind them, preparing to sit alongside of Tommy. As I was approaching, Katrina and Tommy were waving at me and my husband. I can remember thinking “what a great Kodak Moment.” I stopped for a moment and was about to put my camera up to take a picture when I saw the wall and my kids fall and the wall roll over them. My husband was running toward them. I threw my camera, flung my backpack off, and went running to them. I threw myself on the ground next to them. Brittany had run back down the trail and was standing there crying. I started screaming “HELP ME!!” My husband started screaming “SOMEBODY HELP US”. We screamed over and over again. People were just staring at us, not knowing what to do.
We could see that Katrina was severely injured, because she was covered in blood and had a huge gash on her head. Blood was coming out of her mouth and she started gurgling it. We told her to keep spitting the blood out. She told me later that she thought she was going to drown in her own blood. I could see only her beautiful blue eyes through all the blood. I repeatedly told her not to go to sleep and asked if she was okay. She kept giving me a thumbs up sign every time I asked. We began to believe that no one was coming to our aid, so my husband threw someone his cell phone and said, “Find service and call 911.” This was at about 12:30. Unfortunately, I could not tell how injured my sweet baby boy was. He did not have any blood on him. He started to slide down the mountain on his stomach. My husband yelled for someone to get him. People were standing on the paths above us and he started yelling for them to get off the path. He yelled, “You can kill us all…Get off the trail!”
My husband told me to hold Katrina’s head where it was bleeding and apply pressure to stop the bleeding. He then got behind Tommy and tried to keep him from going down the hill. He lifted him up and put him near me and Katrina. Tommy looked my way and said, “Momma, I can’t see.” I saw that his eyes were dilated. I said, “He has a concussion.” I remembered hearing that if someone has a concussion they shouldn’t be moved, so I told him to come next to me and put his head on my leg. My husband helped him over. I saw that he had a huge piece of flesh missing from his leg but there wasn’t any blood coming from it. As I was telling Katrina to spit, I remembered that someone with a concussion should not fall asleep so I turned my head back to Tommy to tell him not to go to sleep, but he was gone. His eyes were open but he was gone. I started screaming, “HELP TOMMY, PLEASE HELP TOMMY!”. People were standing around looking at us. That is when a couple of people cleared an area next to me to start doing CPR. Brittany knelt down and touched her little brother and said, “Momma, he is cold.”
They started CPR on him. My husband and I begged Tommy to breathe. I told him that he was surrounded by angels that were helping to bring him back to me. Come back to me! Someone offered to walk Brittany down the mountain. I threw my cell phone to a young man and asked him to go around the corner (where there was service) and call our friend and family physician, Debbie Sutcliffe. This call was made at 1:32. He came back and said that she reported that a helicopter is being sent. People continued to work on Tommy, but they found no pulse. A minister that was hiking the trail came and said a prayer over Katrina and then Tommy. I began to beg God, “Not Today, Please Don’t Take Him Today.” I began to sing to the children, “You are my sunshines, my only sunshines…” and “Hush Little Baby”.
After hours of waiting, a ranger made it up to us. He said he had no medical training and that help was on the way. Another ranger came after that. Then a boy came and threw some of the paramedics gear over by us and said he was helping them get their gear up to us. The paramedics came and started working on Tommy. I think it was around 3:30-4:00 when a man from the helicopter said that they would be taking my daughter first. They said they were sorry, there was nothing they could do for my son and placed Brittany’s pink Tinker Bell sweatshirt over his face. My daughter, Katrina’s head was still on my right leg and I still had her head wound in my hand. They brought the sling to put her on so that she could be airlifted.
My husband was crying and hugging Tommy’s face, saying, “Oh Tommy, oh dear Tommy.” I laid my head on Tommy’s body and held him as I watched them fly Katrina away under the helicopter. I laid there holding on to him until they said the second helicopter was there to take him. They loaded him up. As we began our hike down the trail, I stopped to watch my baby boy fly off and remember thinking, “How he would have loved to have flown in a helicopter.”
It was a sad, solemn hour and half walk down the mountain. My heart hurt. My mind questioned how and why this could happen. Was my life too perfect? Was I too happy? How can this happen? My sweet little man was gone…in a matter of minutes. My life will never be the same.