14 Hours of Hell and Heroes: A true life search and rescue incident on St. Eustatius

14 Hours of Hell and Heroes: A true life search and rescue incident on St. Eustatius

Part 1 of 2

On Friday, October 20, the article “Major operation to rescue hiker who fell into crater of Quill in Statia” was featured in The Daily Herald, telling the surreal story of rescue and survival of a 50-year-old hiker, who had fallen deep on the inner side of the crater of the National Park (Quill) in St. Eustatius. Although the rescue operation was marred when the hiker, as well as those participating in the rescue operation, was attacked by bees, the hiker was successfully rescued.

The hiker, Damon Corrie, speaks about the experience in his own words below. A member of the Eagle Clan Lokono-Arawaks from Barbados and Guyana, Corrie invites readers to learn more about the group via the website: www.eagleclanarawaks.com. He precedes his story by sharing: “You should always cultivate a positive attitude in your life, no matter what happens to you.”

Here is part one of his story:

Hi guys! Well, a lot of exciting things have happened to me since Wednesday, October 18, actually. I was hiking in a jungle-covered dormant volcano on St. Eustatius island that I have day-and-night hiked 10 times before. I have even slept in the crater once before many years ago, but I got lost in there this time after sunset, after making a video laughing at “how could anyone get lost in here when there is only one track in and out”. Take that humble pie, Bro, and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine…Lol.

Then I thought I was making my own track on all fours up the inside of the crater from 7:00 to 8:00pm to near where I entered, but in reality I was on the side farthest from it. I prayed for an animal to guide me to safety (usually birds do this for me by day) as that always worked for me before – but not this time, children.

A white goat appeared – the mountain is known to have feral goats on it, so not an unexpected sight – it looked back at me, as if leading me to safety. Indeed, the going got a lil’ easier, but then it rounded a bend and disappeared. The only way up was with the rock to hold onto (to pull myself out) that lay before me, as going back down was not an option. The prize of the trail at the top of the crater rim was so close.

I was sure the white goat had led me safety at last, not knowing the creature was leading me to my potential death. Note to self: “Never trust goats with your life.” I ended up climbing up the steepest, highest side where no one hikes. Then, upon reaching the last boulder [where I would] pull myself up and out, it came loose. “REALLY?” That was the only word I said as I fell back into the blackness like a rag doll.

I fell off the crater rim of a volcano 30 feet, onto a pile of loose rocks and then cartwheeled backwards into a tree. I was knocked unconscious. When I regained consciousness, I held onto that tree for 14 hours until rescuers found me. [My butt] got sore after one hour, but [there was] nothing I could do to change position.

I got my phone out. Luckily, it was undamaged, and had signal as it was pretty high up. I called my wife Shirl first to tell her I had fallen and that I might not make it, but to try calling for help as I was bleeding and thought if the gash on my forehead does not stop, I’ll eventually bleed out like an a** holding onto a tree.

So, she was able to alert our kids back in Barbados first and wake up our eldest son Hatuey who was asleep. Then I called him to Google the St. Eustatius authorities to ask for a rescue mission to be sent. Credit on my phone died – no calls possible. Hatuey figured it out, topped me up another three times till the battery was dead, but in that time, I heard help was on the way and I saw the first police rescue team reach the crater at 11:00pm.

I had lost my headlight and shoes in the fall, so I could not use anything more than cell phone light to try to show them where I was. I was shouting back as they were shouting to me to respond so they could fix on my location. But I learned later that this was in vain as my voice was echoing all around inside the crater. No one saw my phone light it seems. It might have looked like a firefly from the other side of the crater where the first rescuers were. Then my phone battery died.

I could not sleep in that uncomfortable position holding onto a tree and seated on a stone, so I watched the sun rise eventually after what seemed a long painful eternity, and I heard a new search party hollering for me. This time it was the STENAPA [St. Eustatius National Parks Foundation] park rangers, so they knew the trails better than anyone.

Two young ladies found me first, but from the crater ridge line above. I looked back up at where I had dropped from and told myself it’s a miracle I did not break my neck in the fall alone and just die instantly. Other people have fallen lesser heights and died instantly. At that time, every time I had to shout, the pain had me convinced I must have broken ribs, if nothing else.

[Then] Jethro and his team of STENAPA park rangers and international volunteers [found me], but a small set of maybe 50 bees attacked all of us – me and all his rescuers. We would have been pulled up where I fell down, and been on the literal “road to recovery” since 9:00am. The two young ladies actually located me first and it was they who radioed the other team led by Jethro, who then hacked their way to reach me from below.

We had to head deeper down into the crater as bees were blocking our easiest, shortest route out. So I did my best to walk and scoot down on my pants seat to at least halfway, when a French rescue team that were coming up reached us.

I was never so happy to be able to lie down and be strapped to a board in my life. Eight men carried me halfway down the crater in this manner. Then an Indian doctor from the hospital was there, and a lot of new other rescue volunteers. A 16-person relay team carried me up the other side of the crater again, rotated in eight-person shifts.

When we finally reached the top and I thought my ordeal was over, we all got attacked by a whole huge swarm of bees. After the first 30 stings on me personally, they had not stopped swarming me and I told myself: “Have I not suffered enough torture already? You will let a whole hive of bees kill me now?”

If I just “stay calm” as the rescuers were shouting from afar – which wasn’t stopping them from swarming and stinging me... “If I let this whole hive sting me, I’ll die from the venom overload as I’m already weak.” So I shouted for someone to brave the bee swarm stinging, and Jethro (who is himself allergic to bee stings) dashed forth to undo the three straps holding me from escaping.

Then, my children, I did like any Guyanese in my situation would do, and with the fear of a painful death by a literal thousand stings, adrenaline kicked in. I sprang to my feet while simultaneously slapping the bees on my head and face to kill them, and I ran like a sk**t for 200 feet down the mountain until I reached rescuers again. They helped me walk again. As for those 200 feet, I had forgotten all about swollen knee bruises and ankle pain, and anything except “getting away from the bees” – but the bee venom overload made me go unconscious again.

I next remember hearing voices at the mountain-bottom as people lifted me up like a sack of rice and loaded me into a pick-up truck tray. The Governor said, “Your wife is here.” So I motioned my hand with eyes closed and held my wife's hand with all my strength. She had stayed up on the volcano all night with the first Police rescue search party, not able to sleep until they found me.

Then we had to drive off to a waiting ambulance on a paved road, then to the hospital in St. Eustatius where they X-rayed me. They found no broken or even fractured bones anywhere in my body – to everyone’s amazement, including myself. They were sure I must have internal injuries, so then the helicopter medevacked me out of that island to St. Maarten, where CT scanning was done on my whole body.

Nothing was found to be amiss internally either. All the medical professionals couldn’t believe I had no internal injuries and no broken bones, not even a fracture. Just surface flesh cuts and bruises over 50% of my body. They said: “You are either very lucky or very strong – or both.”

––To be continued in next week’s edition.

The Daily Herald

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