Man Falls Into St. Helens, Lives to Tell Tale - @

Man Falls Into St. Helens, Lives to Tell Tale


Marsha King | | Monday, April 14, 2008 Editor's Note: Have you ever performed a rescue like the one described below? Send us an e-mail about it!

MOUNT ST. HELENS -- From his hospital bed in Portland, a banged-up but lucky John Slemp said he'd snowmobiled to that exact same spot on Mount St. Helens at least four times before Saturday.

But this time was special a welcome-home ride with his son, who is just back from serving a year in Iraq.

It turned out to be history-making.

Slemp, a longtime driver for UPS in the Portland area, is the first person known to have fallen into the crater of Mount St. Helens.

Saturday afternoon, after snowmobiling up to the west crater rim, he and his son, Jared, and a buddy parked their machines. Then Slemp and his son crawled on all fours to within 20 feet of the edge of a snow cornice that overhung the crater.

The cornice gave way. The buddy pulled Jared back, but Slemp fell 100 to 200 feet before landing on the crater's inside slope, then slid on his hands and knees to the bottom. The snow cushioned his fall, but he estimated he was traveling 40 mph at times while descending a total of 1,300 to 1,500 feet.

"It just gave way," Slemp said of the cornice. "I didn't have a chance to do anything."

But knowing he might be buried under snow, he did have the presence of mind to put a hand over his mouth to keep an air passage open and keep one hand up so he might be found.

"I was thinking clearly," added Slemp, 52. "I never really went into major shock."

Slemp, a Damascus, Ore., resident who has been riding snowmobiles for 20 years, was wearing a helmet, sturdy boots and riding bibs, which probably helped save his life, rescue officials said. It's legal to ride in that area, a rescue official said, but it's not recommended for anyone other than an expert.

Outside of closed areas, snowmobiles are allowed around the mountain when snow depths are sufficient to shelter the ground surface, said Peter Frenzen, Mount St. Helens monument scientist.

But people need to be cautious, he added. When the wind blows snow over a precipice or side of a ridge, it tends to cantilever out in a cornice or overhang.

"You have to determine where the real rim is and if you're on something substantial, not something hanging out in space," Frenzen said.

"I've encountered parties of climbers having lunch on cornices," he said.

Snowmobiling also is not a casual undertaking on Mount St. Helens. Riders can damage their machines or roll because the terrain is so steep, Frenzen said.

Slemp calls himself more extreme than the average trail rider. His "sled," or snowmobile, is built to climb hills.

When Slemp landed at the bottom, he said his first instinct was to try to climb back up. But loose snow carried him back down, so he tried to crawl over to a steam vent to stay warm.

Above the crater, his son and the friend called out on a battery-operated, two-way radio. A man in Mossyrock, Lewis County, happened to have the same kind of radio turned on and called the Sheriff's Office.

North Country Emergency Medical Service's volcano rescue team was contacted about 5:30 p.m. and flew two paramedics to the crater. They helped Slemp into their helicopter.

The rescue guys "were incredible," said Slemp. "I couldn't believe they got there that fast."

Tom McDowell, North Country EMS director, said Slemp "got his legs battered up, got rolled and bumped around a bit."

Slemp was flown to Yacolt, Clark County, then went by ambulance to a Portland hospital, where he learned he'd suffered torn knee ligaments.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Marsha King: 206-464-2232 or

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Operations and Protcols

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide Featured Companies

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

Innovation & Advancement

This is the seventh year of the EMS 10 Innovators in EMS program, jointly sponsored by Physio-Control and JEMS.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Salt Lake City Firefighters Injured in Firehouse Fire

Nine sent to a hospital with smoke inhalation.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Pennsylvania Paramedic Killed in the Line of Duty

West End Ambulance medic killed at accident scene.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Wesleyan Students Hospitalized for Overdose

11 students transported to local hospitals.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Rigs Going in Service from EMS Today 2015

Snap shots of some of the vehicles at EMS Today that will be on the streets soon
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Florida Hospital Fire

Fire halts construction project at Tampa cancer center.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Braun Ambulances' EZ Door Forward

Helps to create a safer ambulance module.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >