Interview: Deaf Couple Stranded in Snowstorm

January 19, 2017

 

Here is an interview with Jason and Stacey, the Deaf couple who got stranded for five days in a restroom at the Crater Lake National Park in Oregon after a serious snowstorm hit the area. *CORRECTION: this took place between January 6-11, not January 7-12.

 

(Short video of Jason and Stacey looking at each other)

 

[This is Jason and Stacey. Both are 27.]

 

(Image of both holding a “HELP” sign)

 

[They are the Deaf couple who got stranded in a restroom in Oregon for five days during a snowstorm.]

 

(Video of Jason struggling to open a door that is snowed in shut)

 

Stacey: The scary part is not being able to hear, not being able to see.

 

Jason: I thought we were going to die, but I didn’t show it.

 

[This is their story.]

 

Jason: My name is Jason Hoang. I am from NYC. I am 27.

 

Stacey: Hi I am Stacey Valle. I am 27 and from LA.

 

Jason: We decided to go to Portland for NYE.

 

(Image of Jason and Stacey standing outdoors in Oregon)

 

Stacey: We always wanted a different challenge . We knew it would be cold, I get cold easily, but I was up to try it out.

 

Jason: Our vision to go out and camp in nature.The nature is right there. I want to wake up to the beautiful snowy winter. It’s a challenge but why not do it? Grab that opportunity?

 

Stacey: The first stop was Rowena Crest.

 

(Image of a narrow winding road around snowy weather)

 

S: Then we went to…

 

J: Mull — I can’t spell it.

 

(Image of a big snowy mountain waterfall)

 

S: Then we planned to go to..

 

J: Mt. Hood.

 

S: it was really beautiful, we took pictures of the starry night.

 

(Image of a tent with a starry sky)

 

J: After Mt. Hood, we drove down five hours to Crater Lake.

 

S: We drove past the information center. There was nobody there. No warning there. We did check the

weather before but we were not aware of how serious the situation would be.

 

J: It was an average snow report, nothing serious. Just light snow.

 

S: There was no snow at at time. There was some ice, plowed roads. We thought we could camp there. We saw people taking pictures there. We thought it would be fine.

 

J: We arrived late in Crater Lake a little late, it was dark, and we wanted to sleep that night so we could get up in the morning and see more of the sights, then leave.

 

S: When we parked, we had ad discussion on whether we should camp or not. We were not sure if were were in the mood for cold weather. While we were discussing, we saw a man trekking in the distance.

 

J: I thought at the time that it was park staff using a flashlight to check out the conditions.

 

S: I believe he is the same man who we met later when we were stuck.

—January 7, Friday Night [Night #1]

 

S: We decided to try and sleep in the bathroom because we were not in the mood for cold weather. We went in the women’s restroom — there was heat on.

 

(Images of restroom — with stalls on it, a mirror, a trash can, and sleeping bags on the tiled restroom floor).

 

J: The smell bothered me a little bit, but I got used to it later.

 

S: We planned to wake up around 5 in the morning to see the sunrise.

 

—Saturday, January 8 [DAY #1]

 

J: We woke up at 5 in the morning.

 

S: We were packing to get ready to get out and see the sunrise. Then we couldn’t get the door to open. It

was stuck.

 

(Video of Jason struggling to open the door ajar. Through the window you can see snow everywhere)

 

S: We were able to open it a little and saw that the snow was knee-high.

 

(Video of knee-high snow beyond the door)

 

S: We thought the rangers would come and plow the roads, they are supposed to do that, right? So we thought we’d be okay — and we slept more, we slept in. When we woke up, it got worse. The snow was higher.

 

J: When we first tried the door (5 am), we could open it a little bit. But the second time around, (10 am) we couldn’t open it at all. It was stuck shut.

 

S: My first reaction was to laugh. It felt like we were in a movie — maybe Cast Away. I was sure that staff would come and save us. It was just like a movie. It was surreal.

 

J: I thought because it was a national park, some staff should be here shortly. I thought it would be okay.

 

S: So we waited a long time for staff to come. Then it was already past 8 or 9 pm. That’s when it started to hit me hard. I hoped they would come, but looking through the restroom window, I saw no visitors at all. We saw blowing snow outside, but we were not aware of the serious situation that time — of the avalanche risk… I lost my phone on the day I flew in Portland. So I depended on his phone. But his phone came up “frozen” because of the cold.

 

J: iPhone 6s dies fast in cold weather.

 

S: We had tap water, but no food. No food at all. We took turns every 30 minutes to walk and check the restroom window to see if there was anybody outside.

(Images of restroom “hallway” and restroom window — showing winter weather outside with thick snow).

 

S: When we slept, we were dependent on vibrations to feel if there was anything — if we felt a “thump” — we would run to check the door. If we felt vibrations, we’d think it was a snowplow. There was one time when I went to the bathroom (it was right there!) — and I used the air dryer — it caused vibrations which made Jason think it was a snowplow. He would run to check the window, but I’d have to tell him it was just the air dry blower.

 

J: We have hearing aids, but the batteries die fast if it’s in cold weather. So we decided to save it for emergencies only — to not wear it all the way.

 

S: I didn’t bring my hearing aid with me — I left it in the car.

 

— Sunday, January 9 (Day #2)

 

J: We were worried about our family and friends. We knew we were supposed to fly out on Sunday and if we missed that flight, we would cause them to worry. That broke our hearts.

 

S: We were worried on how long we would stay there.

 

J: We made a “HELP” sign. We didn’t have a pen so we used our fingernails to “rip” the “HELP” wording.

 

(Images of Jason and Stacey holding a paper with the word, “HELP” punched through.

 

J: We put it on the window — it had a sticker there. During the nighttime, we would use a flashlight (headlamp) to illuminate the sign and hopefully someone would see it. Later we checked the trash can to check for food, whatever would help us.

 

(Image of white metal trash can in the restroom)

 

J: We found a lot of tissues, pieces of paper, and a piece of raw fish and raw meat. We weren’t sure if we should eat them. We decided it was not worth the risk. We found a small piece of bagel, it was really hard to eat.

 

S: We didn’t have a choice.

 

J: It felt really good. It tasted really good.

 

S: It was a good meal, we were really craving for food — we were on survival mode. Later the window would become frosted up — and that was really scary because we couldn’t hear and we couldn’t see. That’s when I started to feel panicky — what if the snow filled up the whole restroom? What if they yelled our name? We wouldn’t be able to hear them. We tried our best to clear up the window from our side, and waited for the sun to clear up the frost from the other end.

 

(Image of window from the outside — with the words, “HELP” visible.)

 

— Monday, January 10 (Day 3)

 

S: Monday afternoon, around 3 pm — I saw through the window a figure with black clothes, a black hood — walking on the snow. When I saw it, I screamed and banged on the door, asking for help. He waved at me, but I was not sure if he actually heard me — since there was heavy winds and he might have had earmuffs. So I banged on the door and continued to yell. He looked at me and waved again, then started to walk towards me. But I noticed he was limping and took breaks on his way to the restroom. I told him that we were Deaf, and I don’t know if he was trying to talk to us from the other side. I ran to let Jason know.

 

J: He did not have a shovel, but he had snowshoes that he used to be able to walk on the snow without falling through — he used a snowshoe to dig down around the door. He struggled to dig the snow for around 30 minutes.

 

S: I thought we were being rescued. I actually packed my things.

 

J: The door was only open very little. We were able to squeeze through and get outside.

 

(Video clip of the snowy outdoors, with Stacey sitting and walking on the snow. The camera pans to show the restroom, which has a metal door with snow dug out)

 

S: When we got out, we thought we would be rescued, but we realized the man was “stuck” just like we were.

 

J: We told him we were Deaf. We were able to gesture with each other to understand each other. He motioned that both of his hands were really cold — he couldn’t feel them as they were frozen — and his leg was injured. I think it might have been broken. He was seriously injured.

 

S: We talked by reading lips, using his phone to write messages.

 

J: We also used pen and paper. He told us his story — he said he thought he would die. He was stuck for three days, just like us. On the first day he set up camp. He didn’t expect the serious snowstorm. When he woke up, he saw snow covering his tent. He had to dig himself out and up. He used snowshoes to travel, but he would sometimes fall down on unstable snow. Later, on his third day, he found a tunnel to stay in. He was outside the whole time, while we were in the bathroom for three days. I can’t imagine being in his situation.

 

His car was parked near ours. He was walking back to his car on the third day. He saw the “HELP” sign on the restroom window. He said he yelled for an hour but got no response. He went back to his car to rest, then came back to yell for another couple of hours. Then luckily that was when Stacey saw him and got his attention.

 

(There is no image of the snowshoer)

 

S: He is a Oregon resident. He said it was impossible to drive in the snow. He said he was injured and needed to rest. He said he tried to use his phone, his radio to contact someone, but was not able to get through. We tried to use WiFi from our car, but it didn’t work. We tried to call 911, but we had no service. We had to rely on the man and hope that he would be able to use his radio to dial 911.

 

J: On Monday night we decided to sleep in his car since it was spacious and if we slept together it’d bring more heat.

 

— Tuesday, January 11 [Day #4]

 

J: The three of us planned to break in the cafe. I was a little far, but worth it.

 

(Video of Stacey standing on the thick snow and pointing to a road. An image of the cafe — a building — but snow is packed all around the building)

 

J: We struggled to walk on the snow (we didn’t have snowshoes) — we would “punch” the snow with our legs. When we got to the cafe, we saw that they had wires on their windows — so it was impossible to break in. So we decided to go back to the women’s restroom for shelter. But the door was stuck with the snow. We had to shovel it again, it took a long time.

 

S: When we went out and came back, the snow just piled on fast. We had to keep on digging it again and again.

 

— Wednesday, January 12 [Day #5]

 

J: The snowshoer said he had to walk back to the ranger station — where we first came in Crater Lake. It was three miles away and would take 14 hours to walk there. He said that was the last resort — that he had to return and that he couldn’t wait anymore. We decided to stay because we did not have snowshoes. He left.

 

S: He said to not wait for him. He said anything could happen to him — he might fall or there might be an avalanche. It was scary as we realized we might be stuck there — if the man disappeared. The moment he left was a huge moment for us. It was very emotional. We had a strong bond with the man. He inspired us with his hiking experience, with him being injured but being determined to survive. We sat and watched him leave. We knew we couldn’t dwell on it, but to continue to work and plan ahead.

Honestly, I did think it was possible that we’d die.

 

J: I did think we would die, but I didn’t show it. I had to show that we can do it, to stay positive.

 

S: I wanted to stay positive, but a part of me thought of how much longer we would be stuck, how much longer our bodies could tolerate this. How much more can our family and friends wait?

Later in the afternoon, as we were making our plans, the man came back. I was confused. I thought maybe the trip was too far away for him. He spoke to us — and then he said that he was able to make a call, that he got service. I was thrilled, but it was hard to believe. We had already made plans for our next few days, but the man came back and said we should get packed, get ready to leave. We packed everything and went to our car and cleared up the snow around the car.

 

J: When we saw the snowplow blow snow up the sky, we were excited. We knew it was coming true.

 

(Video of snowplow tractor pushing through several feet of snow)

 

S: We were so happy, we started to play in the snow. We were actually getting rescued. It was just like a movie.

 

(Video of Stacey sitting in a car with rangers walking around her. Stacey says, “I”m so excited. It is a good experience, too!”)

 

S: The rangers, when they saw us, they “shook their heads at us.”

 

J: Really? They did that?

 

S: Yeah, they smiled but they also shook their heads. I smiled and it was awkward. I’m sure they thought it was crazy of us to stay there that night, but we were not aware of the situation.

They made a three-mile path with the plow, then the plow left — and we had to follow the ranger’s truck. They told us we had to drive a little fast to get over the snowy patches.

 

(Image of two trucks and a car parked on a very snowy roadway. Three people are digging through the

snow.)

 

J: When we got to the ranger station, the ranger said that my sister called us. I asked, “how do you know I have a sister?” So I answered the phone and my sister was crying a little. Then her brother called.

 

S: My brother called and I could hear a little crackle. I prefer to text him but had to use the phone. I asked him if he knew of the situation and he said, “Yeah! I’m the one who made (screen freezes up) — You’re all over Facebook/ on the news!” I was like, no, really? He said yes, you’re all over, we were looking for you. So yeah, it was a really touching moment for us when we contacted our families.

 

(Images of various online news headlines that say the couple and another man was rescued)

 

[Thank you for sharing your story, Jason and Stacey!]

 

(Video of Jason and Stacey waving goodbye)

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