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Left behind: Oso mudslide active search ends with two still missing

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No man left behind. It is the creed of many a courageous soldier in the United States Armed Forces, with a special weight for some, including Rangers, SEALs – and Marines. Today, former United States Marine Steve Hadaway, a victim of the March 22, 2014, mudslide in Oso, Washington, brings that warrior ethos home.

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For five weeks, droves of government and volunteer search-and-rescue (SAR) workers have gone over the scene of the devastating mudslide inch-by-inch. Forty-one bodies have been recovered and identified during that time, and on Monday, April 28, 2014, officials made the decision to call an end to the active search. Still listed as missing are former Marine Steve Hadaway, a strong, good-hearted man whose wife Margaret called her “cream-puff Marine,” and Kris Regelbrugge, mother of four and wife to Navy Commander John Regelbrugge, whose body was recovered early on. Hadaway’s brother, John Hadaway, told media he believed Steve held to the “no man left behind” ethos even in death, preferring the other men, women and children be recovered before his own body be considered. And as the active search comes to an end, John Hadaway says he is “just numb. You know, the seconds, minutes, days, go by.” But he will not give up. “This is not over until it is over,” he said Monday morning as word of the search’s end got out.

In SAR, knowing when to end a search is always a tough call for team leaders and officials when the recoveries have not all been made. Despite dozens of K9 SAR teams circling the mudslide field, nicknamed The Pile, for more than a month, two bodies remain lost. In disasters such as the Oso mudslide, the violent tearing forces of nature create a landscape where teams are finding more parts than whole bodies, a heartbreaking fact not realized by many on the outside looking in. There are cavernous pockets as deep as seventy-five feet filled with nothing but mud and jagged hunks of debris. Decaying wildlife and pets have mixed with the stink of mud and chemicals, merging into an odorous perfume noticeable to a human’s 5 million scent receptors, meaning the as many as 220 million scent receptors in a dog’s nose are being assaulted at an alarming rate. Mud is so deep and dank it hasn’t truly solidified in the forty days since the slide, a process not helped along by Washington’s sporadic rainfall along the way. It’s a simple fact of SAR work that people lost under a wet surface are more difficult to find than those on dry land. Safety of boggy, shifting ground aside, the scents vital to a SAR dog’s success tend to break apart and shift according to the water’s whims, making it harder to pinpoint a find. Due to all those factors and more, it is possible Hadaway and Regelbrugge will never be found, but it is very nearly a sure thing their bodies lay beneath the mud.

Failure to locate the dead, despite the exhaustive efforts of SAR teams, is traumatizing to family members. Some, like John Hadaway and the grown children of Cmdr. John and Kris Regelbrugge, will keep looking, refusing to be put off. And yet for others, that lack of true closure is a death knell of its own. After the slide hit, U.S. Army Specialist Chris Dombroski, the nephew of Steve and Theresa Harris, who were, at the time, presumed victims, took leave from the Army to aid in the search. According to other searchers, SPC Dombroski worked tirelessly, frantic to find his aunt and uncle, a man he told others was “like a father.” Kayla Norris, a volunteer searching alongside Dombroski, told reporters she noticed him crying silently as they searched, but said he was also a “light in a really dark time.” Three weeks after the disaster, and just days before the bodies of both Steve and Theresa Harris were, indeed, recovered, SPC Dombroski went missing. On April 15, 2014, SPC Dombroski’s body was discovered by Thurston County SAR teams in the Capitol Forest outside Olympia, Washington, dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Although the Grays County Sheriff’s Department immediately opened an investigation, it seemed clear the loss of his aunt and uncle were simply too much for the young man to take. He’d had one tour in Afghanistan, deployed with his unit from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and not much has been said about his time in combat. The 20-year-old was engaged to be married.

The psychology of loss after a disaster is different for everyone, but the strain on searchers and families alike can be monumentally difficult. Studies have been doing showing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more common in searchers than once believed, and depression in family and friends of those lost and not found can be deadly. For a young soldier such as SPC Dombroski, the loss of an aunt and uncle he was clearly close to may have been the tipping point for combat-related stressors or it may have been its own event entirely. According to psychologists, the shock and horror of loss can lead those left behind into a spiral of dark despair with seemingly no way out, and when you add a lack of resolution – such as recovery of a body – it can be fatally overwhelming.

SAR workers finding themselves at the end of an active search are typically aware of the psychological implications for the families of those lost, and because of that knowledge tend to work to the point of falling-down exhaustion. After five weeks on The Pile with different teams rotating in and out, the general feeling has become one of reluctant acceptance that the time has come to change the focus to cleanup. It is not giving up, in fact, there is a possibility the two remaining victims will be recovered during cleanup, but it will take months to restore some semblance of order to Oso. The main road was virtually wiped out by the mudslide, and it will most likely take all summer to re-open. While the road is closed, the tiny town of Darrington and nearby Arlington, among others, are all but cut off. The detours exist but are time-consuming, and another factor in psychological recovery from a disaster such as this is a return to normalcy. Although things will never again be truly normal in Oso or the surrounding areas, it is time for a new start.

Steve Hadaway’s brothers will stay in Oso and continue to search for their lost brother, as will Kris Regelbrugge’s children continue their hunt for their mother. In the Marines, Hadaway worked on the rifle range, caring for the safety of his brother Marines. When he got out, he and his wife adopted three children, one of whom was a little boy, Brandon, with special needs. When Brandon was just six years old and in first grade, he passed away. Steve’s brother John, who has persevered above and beyond - including beyond knocked unconscious by flying debris during the search - believes Steve is finally at peace. He is with their mother and his son now, and the Whitehorse Mountains he loved so much have become his final resting place. Steve Hadaway was a Marine throughout, hanging back while the other mudslide victims were recovered, and now, at the end, fading into memory. And in the rushing of the mighty Stillaguamish River and the whisper of the wind in the pine trees above, the spirits of Steve Hadaway, Kris Regelbrugge, and SPC Dombroski, along with the other forty-one mudslide victims, will live on forever.

Related articles: www.examiner.com/article/deep-into-darkness-sar-dogs-and-the-oso-mudslid...
http://www.examiner.com/article/brokenhearted-boomer-the-retriever-s-jou...

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Remembering the dead of the Oso mudslide:
(Also presumed dead: Steve Hadaway and Kris Regelbrugge)
#41. Teresa C. Harris, 53, of Arlington
#40. Stephen D. Harris, 52, of Arlington
#39. Wyatt M. Ruthven, 4, of Arlington
#38. Sandra K. Miller, 64, of Everett
#37. Ronald P. Dequilettes, 52, of Arlington
#36. Denver M. Harris, 14, of Arlington
#35. Mark J. Gustafson, 55, of Arlington
#34. Bonnie J. Gullikson, 91, of Arlington
#33. Michael W. Pearson, 74, of Darrington
#32. Larry J. Miller, 58, of Everett
#31. Brooke Spillers, 2, of Arlington
#30. Billy L. Spillers, 30, of Arlington
#29. Mary M. Satterlee, 61, Arlington
#28. Jerry L. Halstead, 75, of Arlington
#27. Gloria J. Halstead, 67, of Arlington
#26. Jovon E. Manqual, 13, of Arlington
#25. Katie Ruthven, 35, of Arlington
#24. Delaney Webb, 19, of Arlington
#23. Thomas P. Durnell, 65, of Arlington
#22. Adam Farnes, 23
#21. Lon E. Slauson, 60, of Arlington
#20. Thom E. Satterlee, 65, of Arlington
#19. Brandy L. Ward, 58, from Arlington, WA
#18. Gerald E. Logan, 63, from Arlington, WA
#17. Sonoah Heustis, 4 months, from Arlington, WA
#16. Judee S. Vandenburg, 64, from Arlington, WA
#15. Amanda B. Lennick, 31, from Arlington, WA
#14. Shelley L. Bellomo, 55, from Arlington, WA
#13. Hunter Ruthven, 6, from Arlington, WA
#12. Julie A. Farnes, 59, from Arlington, WA
#11. Alan M. Bejvl, 21, from Arlington, WA
#10. Leon J. Regelbrugge III, 49, from Arlington, WA
#9. Joseph R. Miller, 47, from Arlington, WA
#8. Summer R. Raffo, 36, from Arlington, WA
#7. Lewis F. Vandenburg, 71, from Arlington, WA
#6. Shane M. Ruthven, 41, from Arlington, WA
#5. William E. Welsh, 66, from Arlington, WA
#4. Kaylee B. Spillers, 5, from Arlington, WA
#3. Linda L. McPherson, 69, from Arlington, WA
#2. Stephen A. Neal, 55, from Darrington, WA
#1. Christina A. Jefferds, 45, from Arlington, WA

Sources:

Gittens, H. Officials End Active Search at Washington Landslide With 2 Still Missing - NBC News In-text: (Gittens, 2014) Bibliography: Gittens, H. (2014). Officials End Active Search at Washington Landslide With 2 Still Missing - NBC News. [online] NBC News. Available at: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/deadly-mudslide/officials-end-active-se... [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

[Those who helped soldier search mudslide for his relatives shocked at suicide]
Kim, H. Those who helped soldier search mudslide for his relatives shocked at suicide In-text: (Kim, 2014) Bibliography: Kim, H. (2014). Those who helped soldier search mudslide for his relatives shocked at suicide. [online] Q13 FOX News. Available at: http://q13fox.com/2014/04/17/oso-landslide-heartache-touches-jblm/#axzz3... [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

[Snohomish officials to discuss ending active search in Oso...]
Kirotv.com Snohomish officials to discuss ending active search in Oso... In-text: (Kirotv.com, 2014) Bibliography: Kirotv.com, (2014). Snohomish officials to discuss ending active search in Oso.... [online] Available at: http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/snohomish-officials-discuss-ending-activ... [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

KOMO News Soldier, nephew of 2 missing in SR-530 slide, found dead In-text: (KOMO News, 2014) Bibliography: KOMO News, (2014). Soldier, nephew of 2 missing in SR-530 slide, found dead. [online] Available at: http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Missing-soldier-found-dead-in-forest-... [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

[HeraldNet.com - Darrington man missing after Oso slide always thought of others]
The Daily Herald HeraldNet.com - Darrington man missing after Oso slide always thought of others In-text: (The Daily Herald, 2014) Bibliography: The Daily Herald, (2014). HeraldNet.com - Darrington man missing after Oso slide always thought of others. [online] Available at: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140419/NEWS01/140418968 [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

[HeraldNet.com - Silence weighs heavily on the families of the missing]
The Daily Herald HeraldNet.com - Silence weighs heavily on the families of the missing In-text: (The Daily Herald, 2014) Bibliography: The Daily Herald, (2014). HeraldNet.com - Silence weighs heavily on the families of the missing. [online] Available at: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140324/NEWS01/140329456 [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].
[Two people still missing more than a month after Oso mudslide in Washington]
UPI Two people still missing more than a month after Oso mudslide in Washington In-text: (UPI, 2014) Bibliography: UPI, (2014). Two people still missing more than a month after Oso mudslide in Washington. [online] Available at: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2014/04/28/Work-at-Washington-State-mudsl... [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

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