Olympic National Park official to take over search-rescue operations at Oso mudslide

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

ARLINGTON — Larry Nickey, Olympic National Park fire management officer, will take command of search-and-rescue efforts at the Oso mudslide beginning Saturday at 6 a.m., he said today.

“We are just doing the transition today,” Nickey, 55, said in a telephone interview from Arlington, where first-responders have set up their command center 20 miles southwest of the devastation.

“I won’t get to the site until [Saturday] or [Sunday].”

Nickey, 55, will head up the battalion of 300 personnel conducting search-and-rescue operations from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., including 50 from the state of Washington, he said.

Officials conducting operations in the town of 180 started running survivability predictions today that would lead to a conversion from search-and-rescue to recovery mode, Nickey said.

“Right now, it’s 100 percent search and rescue,” he said.

“We’re hoping someone got trapped in a car and we can uncover them before they pass away.

“We’ve got people in the field working as hard as they can to try to beat the clock,” Nickey added.

“Survivability is becoming less and less.”

Nickey said he is in his 24th year at Olympic National Park, with headquarters in Port Angeles.

“You never really prepare for this,” he said of his upcoming duties.

“You’ve just have to go in with the mind-set you’ve got a job to do and be ready to work with all the people and families and friends who have lost family and friends.

“It’s a difficult operation to do, but you do the best you can to make sure you have a good outcome, as good an outcome as we can to reunite loved ones with family, which at this point, unfortunately, may be deceased.”

The official death toll from the Saturday morning mudslide stood at 17 as of Friday, though officials said other bodies have been found that are not part of that total.

Officials had said they would announce an updated figure this morning.

Travis Hots, Snohomish County District No. 21 fire chief, said today that new numbers will be released this evening, according to The Associated Press.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 28. 2014 12:47PM
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