From a hospital in Portland, a banged-up, but lucky John Slemp said he’s snowmobiled to that exact same spot on Mount Saint Helens at least four times before.
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 known person to fall into the crater.
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 out to within 20 feet of the cornice’s edge, which overhung the crater.
The cornice gave way. The buddy grabbed Jared back, but Slemp fell a total of 1,300-1,500 feet down the inside wall.
“It just gave way,” said Slemp, who’s been riding snowmobiles for 20 years. “I didn’t have a chance to do anything.”
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 could be found.
The gear he was wearing — a helmet, sturdy boots and riding bibs — probably helped save his life, said rescue officials. They also said it’s legal to ride in that area, but not recommended for anyone other than an expert.
When Slemp got to the bottom, his first instinct was to try to climb back up. But another avalanche carried him down, so he tried to crawl over to a steam vent and stay warm.
By that the time, the rescue helicopter showed up.
“He certainly got his legs battered up, got rolled and bumped around a bit,” said Tom McDowell, director of North Country Emergency Medical Service.