Downhill toward Disaster
September 1999

“Downhill toward Disaster,” Ensign, Sept. 1999, 62–63

Downhill toward Disaster

I had been working the past five weeks for my brother-in-law, logging up the Monte Cristo Canyon on my days off from the Lincoln County sheriff’s office in Kemmerer, Wyoming. My wife was insistent one particular morning that I not go. I thought it was just because it would be the first week she wasn’t going to spend with me at the logging camp, but I later found out she had felt something bad was going to happen. When I arrived at the camp, the work day started out normally, but soon we were plagued by small inconveniences and breakdowns.

Since the section of mountain we were logging was too steep for equipment to access, we were doing what is called highline logging. A heavy cable is suspended 20 to 50 feet above the surface of the steep hill, running from a derrick at the top of the mountain to a spar tree at the bottom of the valley. A smaller cable rides down the main line on a block pulley. When the block hits what’s called a button, which is essentially a pulley that locks on the main cable, the smaller cable releases to the ground. We then attach it to three or four logs so they can be pulled to the top of the mountain, where machinery can get to them. We can get only so many logs in one area before the button must be moved.

One of the many breakdowns that morning had been our radios, so we were using hand signals to communicate. The time came when we needed to move the button, and we signaled for the main line to be lowered. The button came down within my reach but still over my head. I decided to unlock the button even though it was still too high.

Standing on a steep embankment, I unlocked the 60-pound button, and its weight immediately tried to pull me down the steep incline. As I struggled to gain control of the button, a gust of wind caused the main cable to whip, lifting me off my feet. Instantly I was airborne, still hanging on to the button and quickly picking up speed as I sailed down the line toward the spar tree below. I looked for a place to jump, but as I looked 50 feet below, all I could see were tall, pointed trees sticking straight up at me. I glanced up in time to see I was about to hit the gigantic spar tree at about 35 miles an hour.

Spotting one large limb that extended from the side of the tree, I thought I might be able to grab the limb and avoid falling to the ground. I let go of the button with one hand and reached for the limb. The impact dislocated my arm and flipped me upside down. As I spun, something hit the back of my head and everything went black.

When I hit the ground at the base of the tree, the impact threw me 20 feet across an old logging road. I came to, lying on my stomach and unable to breathe. For a minute, I couldn’t remember who I was or what had happened to me. I heard a faint voice asking me if I was all right. Having difficulty breathing, I asked to be rolled over. The pain was so great I blacked out again.

I woke up again, this time lying on my back in the middle of the logging road with no feeling from my hips down. There were cuts and bruises all over my body, and I continued to slip into unconsciousness from the pain. I said a simple prayer and asked Heavenly Father to help me. When I opened my eyes, there was Ethan Call; it was his first day logging. I remembered my wife had told me Ethan had returned from serving a mission. I asked him to give me a blessing. As he began the blessing, a sense of calm came over me. I was unconscious during most of the blessing, but I recall hearing Ethan bless me that my body would be made whole. I felt as if my body were being pieced back together. The pain was now bearable, and I was able to breathe again.

I lay there knowing it would be a long wait. A man had already started down the mountain for help, but it was a two-hour drive to the nearest phone. I closed my eyes and said another simple prayer, asking Heavenly Father to speed the help I so desperately needed. Driving down the mountain, the man who had been sent to get help happened across a paramedic who was out for an afternoon drive. The paramedic contacted the Weber County Sheriff Department on his high-powered radio. They in turn contacted the main hospital in Ogden, Utah, and a Life Flight helicopter was dispatched. The paramedic immediately began first aid. He started an IV and stopped my bleeding.

Within an hour and a half, the helicopter was circling overhead. After a few passes, they radioed that the only place to land was a half mile up the old logging road. My blood chilled at the thought of riding in a truck up that dirt road. I again prayed for help. The pilot circled one last time and decided to try to land closer. He was able to land just 50 feet from me. Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the hospital emergency room. Doctors started more IVs and put me on oxygen. They pumped blood out of my stomach for three hours. In all, there were four doctors and two specialists working on me for over six hours.

To the amazement of the doctors, initial x-rays showed no broken bones. Plus there appeared to be no internal injuries. They performed more tests with meticulous x-rays from my neck to knees and a series of CAT scans. Baffled again, they found nothing. Later, in my intensive care room, the doctors told me that because of the severe trauma my body had been through I wouldn’t be able to walk for several weeks.

That night Bryan, my brother, gave me another blessing. During the blessing I received a strong witness that I would be all right. The next day I stood and walked. I also said another prayer—this time a prayer of thanks. I was not sure why my life had been spared, but I thanked Heavenly Father for the power of the priesthood and for His help and love.

  • Brent W. Case is a stake missionary in the Fruita First Ward, Grand Junction Colorado West Stake.