First Trooper On Scene Of Landslide: 'It’s An Incredibly Helpless Feeling'

Mar 26, 2014

It was Saturday morning. State Trooper Rocky Oliphant was watching for speeders on Interstate 5 just north of the Highway 530 exit. Then a call came across his radio.

“Initially, [they] put out the call as a possible flood with a barn roof in the road,” he said.

Oliphant was about 20 miles away. He responded. As he got closer more information came in. It was a mudslide. He remembers coming around a corner.

“There’s basically no words to describe the amount of devastation. Houses in the road, roof in the road, random debris everywhere,” he said.

'They Could Hear A Baby Screaming And A Mom Calling For Help'

Oliphant was the first trooper on the scene. He says he saw group of people standing at the edge of the destruction. They told him they were hearing a faint voice calling for help. Several of them started to wade into the mud and debris. But Oliphant noticed there was a downed power line.

“I tried to get them to stop because I didn’t know if the wire was live. And it was going into the slide, and I didn’t want to get any more people hurt,” Oliphant said.

But he says the men ignored his request to wait. Soon they were calling back to him.

“When they made it about halfway out, they advised that they could hear a baby screaming and a mom calling for help,” Oliphant said.

About then, Oliphant says he got word the power had been shut off. So he waded in, too. He describes trying to maneuver in several feet of mud and debris.

“The picture of me shows mud almost up to my waist, because a couple of times I fell through and couldn’t even feel the ground below,” Oliphant said.

'It's Horrifying Is What It Is'

By then, the civilian rescuers had reached the mother and baby. Oliphant started to construct a makeshift walkway.

“I was taking roofing, two by fours, plywood — just about anything I could find to make a path, so they could get back safely,” he said.

Trooper Rocky Oliphant’s muddied boots and uniform pants after wading into the Oso mudslide to help rescue an infant.
Credit Courtesy of Rocky Oliphant

Soon, one of the rescuers emerged with the baby wrapped in a blanket. Nearby the infant’s mother was trapped with possible broken legs. She was also rescued. Both mother and baby were transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The hospital reports the infant boy is critical, but improving. His mother is in satisfactory condition. Governor Jay Inslee has praised Trooper Oliphant’s “bravery.” But the young trooper says he felt something else that day.

“It’s an incredibly helpless feeling for a police officer to roll up on something like that,” Oliphant said.

Oliphant grew up in nearby Marysville. He has patrolled the area where the slide happened for most of his seven years with the State Patrol. He still can’t believe what’s happened to this tight-knit community.

“It’s horrifying is what it is,” he said.

'I've Seen A Lot Of Tears'

Oliphant has been back to the scene several times to help enforce the road closure. He says it’s been emotional.

“So I’ve been able to talk to a lot of the people. I’ve seen a lot of tears. I’ve come close to tears myself just talking to them,” he said.

Oliphant finally got a day off to go home and see his own kids. But he can’t stop thinking about the lives lost and the families destroyed by this disaster.

And there’s something else. Oliphant has thought a lot about the rescuers who ignored his request to wait until they were sure the downed power line wasn’t live. He says he has nothing but respect for them.