In what can only be described as a miracle, a man not only fell 1,500-2,000 feet into the crater of Mount St. Helens, he survived, and was almost unscathed. "It was all luck," he says.
Experienced snowmobiler John Slemp, 52, of Damascus, Ore., became the first person ever to fall into the crater formed when the volcano erupted in 1980.
Last Saturday, Slemp, his son, Jared, and a family friend, Rob Mayes, took their snowmobiles up to the crater's rim, where they stopped to take in the view from a cornice -- an overhanging shelf of snow.
It broke loose, and John dropped about 200 feet. Jared began to slide down with him until Mayes grabbed him and pulled him back to safety.
John landed on a snow bank, but when he tried to climb back up, shelf of snow fell apart beneath him again and he went down another 1,500 feet or so.
At First, all rescuers saw in the snow was an avalanche and a tiny dot. But, when they reached John and pulled him to safety, they were amazed.
"He had a hyper-extended left leg," said Jeffrey Linscott, a helicopter pilot for J.L. Aviation, "and some cuts and bruises -- pretty remarkable, for his fall."
The Early Show showed amazing video Thursday taken by Jared just before the incident. The camera actually fell into the volcano with Jared, but the footage survived!
On the show, Mayes told co-anchor Harry Smith that the three of them had been to the area several times before, and surveyed the cornice thoroughly Saturday, but, "It was an extremely large cornice and a very warm day."
The three never got any closer to the edge then 10-20 feet, Mayes and John said.
"I got off (my snowmobile) on all fours, crawling," John continued. "Jared and Rob were standing. ... We were further back than I had ever been and had something even close to happening like this. ... I'd been to that exact spot five times (previously). ... I crawled back toward my sled on my hands and knees and made a comment about how awesome it looked, and it gave way."
"It was a lot of luck (that I survived)," John says. "It was all luck. I didn't have any control over anything that happened."
"What saved him was all the snow that went with him," Mayes observed, "because he had no line directly below him. It was all rocks."
Jared, a Marine reserve, had just returned from Iraq a week before.