Earning Their Courage Badges
Scout troop forced to put survival skills to the test
From left to right: Boy Scouts Kyle Lai, Tommy Muench, and Colin Muench at the home of a fellow troop member in Maplewood, New Jersey, September 7, 2008. (Photo: Veronica Majerol)
Thirteen-year-old Colin Muench says he loves being a Boy Scout for "the hiking, the camping . . . just the whole thrill." The scout from Troop 21 in Maplewood, New Jersey, got all that and more in August, when he and five other troop members, accompanied by three adults, were trapped for several hours by dangerous flash floods in the Havasu Falls region of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona.
"We noticed that things weren't going good when everybody was woken up at about 1:00 in the morning and the water was completely around us," said 11-year-old Tommy Muench, Colin's brother who was also on the scouts' trip. Overnight, the calm waters flowing through the Canyon's ravines had morphed into a raging river, the result of a dam that had broken nearby.
When the troop members were informed at 6 a.m. that further flash floods were expected, they had to act quickly. "I was just really scared, just needed to get my things ready and [figure out] what was my next objective and goal to do to be safe," Boy Scout Kyle Lai, 13, told Scholastic News.
Colin and Tommy's father, Kevin Muench, was one of the chaperones on the trip. He told Scholastic News that it was hard to know how deep the river was because it was so muddy. "But [the river current] was ripping, so you knew if someone fell in it, they would go flying downstream," he said.
Tommy said the most frightening part was when park rangers ordered them to climb the trees so they could get as high above the floods as possible. "It was just scary because we had no idea what they were talking about," Tommy said. "We were thinking, ‘Why would we get in the trees?' and they just kept screaming, 'Get in the trees!'"
|Photo of Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon, Arizona. (Photo: ©Ron Watts/CORBIS)|
What made matters even more alarming was that trees in the vicinity had been snapping all night and all day, according to assistant scout master Dug Nevius. So there was no guarantee that the trees the boys had climbed would hold.
Mr. Muench said that while he and the boys were up in the trees, he had "a very deep sense" that they were going to be okay. "I was saying to them that it's okay to be scared because this is scary; it would be unusual not to be scared. But I also told them 'I am certain that we're going to get out of this.'"
Eventually, a helicopter lifted the younger boys, as well as Mr. Nevius and Mr. Muench, to dry ground. However, the three older boys and Mike Lai—Kyle's father and a chaperone on the trip—had to scale a mountain of about 300 feet, using ropes thrown down by rescuers. After reaching dry ground, the four still had to hike through unmapped trails for about an hour before reaching the rest of the troop.
Later, a Black Hawk helicopter airlifted the whole group from the Supai Village in the Canyon to a Red Cross center on the Havasupai Reservation. Kyle said what helped him through the crisis was knowing "that there were good people there and that you could trust them and that you could basically let them know 'I'll care about you if you care about me, [as] if I was a brother to you.'"
Colin said that heeding the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared" also helped save him and the other boys. "We know what procedures to do in times like this. We know first aid, we know directions, we know all the things you need [for] survival," he said. "It was good practice for us. If this ever happens again . . . we know what to do."
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