One day after officials called off air searches for survivors of Mount St. Helens' eruption, saying the chances of finding any were "nil," rescuers plucked 75-year-old Ray Jennings and his four dogs, alive and well, from an ash-covered cabin 10 miles south of the mountain.
"He and his dogs appeared to be in good health," said a spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Services who announced today that Jennings, who had refused earlier rescue offers, and his pets were taken from the cabin by a National Guard helicopter Friday.
The helicopter was called in by the Skamania County sheriff's office, which is participating in ground searches.
Jennings' cabin on the edge of the Swift Creek reservoir is in the "red zone," the scorched and devastated area around the mountain. Even though thick ash covered his cabin, boiling mud rushed by his home and a nearby bridge was destroyed, he had refused offers to fly him to safety until Friday. b
But if the ordeal is over for Jennings, it continues for Don Crick and others whose relatives and friends are among the 55 persons still missing on Mount St. Helens.
Crick, of Toledo, Wash., was in Oregon the day the mountain erupted, May 18, feeling a little bad that he had not stayed behind to help his son-in-law, Tom Gadwa, and his logging partner, Wally Bowers, finish a tree-felling job about seven miles north of the mountain.
The two men apparently were buried in the tons of ash and mud that swept down the north side of the mountain, and Crick has exhausted himself in a fruitless rescue mission.
Crick acknowledges that the chances either man survived are slim, but he is determined to search for them, with or without official help.
And it looks as if he will have to do without official help. He already faces a $500 fine for running a roadblock on one of his forays up the mountain.
Lewis County Deputy Sheriff Mike Copenhefer, who is helping coordinate ground search efforts, says he is sympathetic with Crick's frustration, but he cannot let civilians get in the way of official rescue operations.
He says debris left behind by civilian searchers has created false trails, which he and his men have spent hours fruitlessly tracking.
"I do appreciate the man's efforts," Copenhefer says, "and he has given us a lot of good information. If I were in his position I would probably do the same thing, but in many ways he has hindered our efforts."
Crick and others see it differently. They complain that they have been refused permission to fly on air search missions while dozens of news media representatives have been allowed to occupy extra space in helicopters.
Crick also complains that ground teams were not put into action in the first two critical days after the eruption, and that some areas where victims are likely to have been on the day of the eruption have not been thoroughly searched.
"They just barely cut into our area Tuesday with three seven-man search teams and called off the operations on Thursday afternoon," Crick said. "We know there are at least six people still missing in the area."
Rescue officials are stung by the criticism. "The relatives think that nobody is doing anything. It is just not true," said National Guard Sgt. Chuck Foster. Foster, who works at a nearby lumber mill, said the relatives "have been out here pestering anyone they can grab for five minutes. They say they want experienced people out here. Well, I'm experienced."
The Cowlitz County coroner's office has said it will begin issuing "presumptive" death certificates for those missing, and Crick expects they will be issued for his friends. But he still clings to an ever-fainter hope that somehow Gadwa and Bowers are alive, and he is planning more trips into the forbidden zone around the mountain.
"I'm not satisfied with the search effort," he said. "If I went in there again in the spot where I think they are and still couldn't find anything, then I guess I'd be satisfied."