First they heard “kind of a crackling sound,” David Brown said.
“Then the rock slide and then the crash.”
Brown and his wife, Gabriela, looked through to the other side of the East Tunnel of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road, spotting a damaged red truck surrounded by rock debris.
They rushed to the site and found the five members of the Sparrow family of Farr West, Utah, in and around the truck, including Ayva Sparrow, 14, who was in the driver’s side rear seat.
The roof on Ayva’s side was caved in and the door had been knocked off its hinges. All the other family members were injured, but not as seriously as Ayva.
The Browns — vacationing registered nurses from Belle River, Ontario, Canada — stabilized the teen’s neck and opened her airway, the Browns said in an interview Tuesday.
“There was nobody else around but us,” David Brown said.
They recounted their efforts and those of other people who eventually came by the scene of the tragedy Aug. 12, including park rangers, an off-duty paramedic, people who helped the other family members, and others who had first-aid kits.
Although Ayva still had a steady pulse and regular breathing by the time she was driven away to meet an emergency medical helicopter, she died later that day.
NO CELL SERVICE
David Brown wonders whether Ayva might have had a better chance of survival somewhere else. But more help was far away and out of phone range.
“I verbalized to myself that we needed to get her off this mountain to a neurological center,” he said.
No one had cell service in the remote area of northern Montana.
Other help began to trickle in.
About 10 minutes after the rock fall, an off-duty emergency medical technician arrived. He helped the Browns maintain Ayva’s airway.
Other passers-by volunteered to go find a place with cell service. The Browns said Cory Sparrow went with one of them to call for help.
A second EMT arrived with medical supplies, including oxygen and a breathing tube.
“Another lady came and grabbed the family and took them away and was talking to them and kept them calm, which was a great help to us so we could concentrate on Ayva,” Gabriela Brown said.
A park ranger arrived, offering a medical bag.
Ayva’s breathing was better and her color was improved, the Browns said.
A second ranger showed up, also with a medical bag.
The Browns said the rangers wanted to make sure Ayva was stable enough to be moved.
Finally, they prepared to move Ayva to a place where the rescue helicopter could land.
They wrapped Ayva in blankets and lifted the teenager into a truck volunteered by another passer-by. That person and an EMT drove her to the helicopter, the Browns said.
The Browns waited at the scene for the police and further word from those who had left with Ayva.
David Brown said the crackling noise they had heard at the beginning must have been the rocks breaking loose far up the mountainside above the road.
He said he also thought the Park Service should consider adding a cellular transmitter in the remote region, to make more timely rescues possible.
A few days later, the Browns were able to contact Dan Walker, a spokesman for the Sparrows.
“We never got the chance to speak to them or give them a hug or our names, as Ayva was our primary focus,” Gabriela Brown said.
They wanted to offer their condolences and any help they might provide.
Soon they conversed by text message with Ayva’s father, Cory Sparrow.
“It was amazing to hear from them,” Gabriela Brown said. “They seemed like wonderful, wonderful people.”
The Browns considered traveling to Utah for Ayva’s funeral but worried it might be an intrusion.
“We didn’t want to traumatize them even more. I am glad they got the support that they needed,” Gabriela Brown said.
“I hope the family knows we are there for them if ever a need comes up,” she said. “Our hearts go out to them. I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes.”
Walker said the Sparrows are grateful for the help the nurses and others provided.
“He has been very complimentary about them and what they did,” Walker said of Cory Sparrow.
The Browns said they will never forget that day. But they said it’s not the first time they’ve been able to render emergency aid while traveling.
On an airline flight once, a man passed out and was unresponsive. They were able to revive him.
“He did stabilize, and it’s wonderful when that happens,” Gabriela Brown said. “As in Ayva’s case, it doesn’t always happen that way.”
David Brown said he also saved a man from drowning in Panama.
“This seems to happen to us every time we go away,” Gabriela Brown said. “God seems to put us there in the right time in the right place.”