Skip to main content

Boy, 4, stays calm as rescuers pull him from mudslide

By Steve Almasy and Greg Botelho, CNN
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 0246 GMT (1046 HKT)
  • NEW: Rescuer: "We have no clue how he ended up there by himself"
  • NEW: A neighbor recalls cradling boy in blanket, singing to him after rescue
  • Young Jacob, who was upstairs, was rescued; search continues for his father, 3 half-siblings
  • Rescue team's crew chief said the boy was extremely brave under trying circumstances

(CNN) -- Four-year-old Jacob Spillers was trapped in mud so thick it was like freshly poured concrete.

But the little trouper didn't panic as rescuers worked to free him from the mudslide that had swallowed most of his house and trapped his father and some other family members Saturday.

"He didn't cry. He didn't move. He just stood there and was a very composed little man," Ed Hrivnak, a volunteer pilot for the Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team, told CNN on Tuesday.

Jacob was upstairs when the mudslide swept through the house. His father and three half-siblings have yet to be found.

Randy Fay, a helicopter rescue team coordinator for Snohomish County, on Wednesday recalled spotting the boy "out in the middle of nowhere" not long after his crew first flew over the scene Saturday.

"We have no clue how he ended up there by himself," Fay said. "(There were) no homes, no nothing."

Response to landslide is 'very humbling'
'It's absolute chaotic destruction'

Jacob's dramatic rescue was recorded by a camera on the Snohomish rescue team's helicopter. It was an uneasy save. The helicopter couldn't set down on the uneven, sticky soil so it hovered a few feet above the ground. The rotors sucked up debris, chopping up insulation and spitting it all over the scene.

Two men who lived nearby saw the child; one managed to get to him, but no one could get any traction in what Fay described as "a mushy slurry (that) once you got into it, there was no way to push yourself up."

By the time rescuers got to the boy, his pants had fallen to around his ankles. They came off entirely "when we pulled him out of the mud," Fay remembered.

That left the boy "shivering badly" wearing only his underwear and a sleeveless T-shirt, according to Fay. But at least he could get warm, and at least he was safe.

And he was calm as he was passed up into the arms of crew chief Beau Beckner.

"That little guy was very brave," Beckner wrote on the rescue team's Facebook page.

Another woman rescued that Saturday, Robin Youngblood, recalled talking to the boy and cradling him in a blanket.

"I said, 'Honey I'm a grandma, I'll take care of you until we figure this out,'" she told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday. "... I sang him songs, and I just tried to help him stay calm."

Jacob's mother, Jonielle Spillers, is safe. She was at work during Saturday's mudslide, which killed at least 16 people and destroyed much of two towns north of Seattle. Another eight bodies have been found but not recovered, officials said. As of Wednesday, a county official said that 90 people were officially missing or unaccounted for.

Governor: Washington landslide toll likely to rise significantly

Part of complete coverage on
Washington state landslide
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 2347 GMT (0747 HKT)
The signs touting logger pride are everywhere in this small town tucked away in Washington's rugged North Cascade Mountains.
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
With land come landslides. While they're inevitable in many ways, people don't inevitably have to die because of them.
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
A close community has become even closer as they work together to find the missing and clear the mud and debris.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 2255 GMT (0655 HKT)
"Well, how do you remember any son?" John Regelbrugge II asked in a telephone call from his home in northern California.
April 1, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
As a landslide near Oso, Washington, tragically highlighted, we remain subject to the forces of nature like all the rest of Earth's creatures.
March 27, 2014 -- Updated 0246 GMT (1046 HKT)
Four-year-old Jacob Spillers was trapped in mud so thick it was like freshly poured concrete.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
The landslide buried 49 structures in up to 40 feet of mud in a square mile and left 175 people unaccounted for.
Satellite images taken before and after a landslide in Washington state show the extent of the damage.
April 8, 2014 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
The search continues for those missing after the landslide, but it has been days since anyone has been found alive.
March 26, 2014 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
Video shows a 4-year-old boy being rescued on Saturday from the wreckage of a landslide in Washington.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
After days of tragedy, one family found a bit of happiness in the rubble from a landslide in Washington. KOMO reports.