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Oso slide victims’ families speak out against planned river tours of area: ‘It’s disgusting’

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OSO, Wash. — Families who lost loved ones in last year’s Oso mudslide are furious at the idea of tourists rafting through the slide zone.

The anger is aimed at a local company that placed ads offering lunch and guided tours down the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.

Dave Button, the man who runs Pacific NW Float Trips, said he made a mistake by not asking victims’ family members first before coming up with the idea. Button said his plan is on hold for now, but he could still go forward with the idea.

But some of the victim’s family members are livid.

“This is not and never should be a tourist attraction,” said Karen Pszonka. “This is where people died, this is hallowed ground.”

Last March 22, Pszonka lost six members of her family, three generations, when the Oso slide killed 43 people.

Pszonka said she was disgusted by an advertisement she found on Groupon.com that offered $45 per person guided tours on the river through the slide zone.

“To have this show up right now it’s disgusting and very difficult to bear,” she said.

Data pix.
Data pix.

At first Button planned to donate 25% of the proceeds to victims' families, but amid the backlash from grieving family members, he’s now offering 100% of the proceeds if he decides to move forward.

"To me it is like a memorial,” said Button. “I mean we all go to see the memorials for, the Vietnam memorial is one, I was in the Vietnam war, and so there's go to be some way to honor those people who lost their life there,” he said.

Button said he plans to meet with victims' families next week. If they object to his plan, he promised to pull his boats out of the water before reaching the slide zone.

But Pszonka wants Button to cancel his plans all together.

“People can see the slide from (State Route) 530, there’s no reason to get up close,” she said. “I would like to see it (the tour idea) go away.”

Button said he does not need a special permit to raft through the slide zone.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources said the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River is free and open, something victims' families want to see changed.

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10 comments

  • sea dude

    Watched this on 13news.. I can understand this persons’ pain, along with other Oso survivors and families who lost people in the slide. Losing someone is hard, especially in an accident or otherwise. I heard Karen Pszonka state that this is hallowed ground and nobody should be allowed near it. Again, she has reason to feel immense pain over what happened. The state cannot, however, decide that accident sites become off limits to people being close to them. If I float down the river and at the OSO site take some pictures to send to family so they can see what it looks like now, according to Karen Pszonka I’m descecrating the area because she has loved ones who died there. People visit the German concentration camps to share in history, to pay respect, to see first hand where death happened on an unimaginable scale not thru natural disaster or accident, in the hundreds of thousands. People pay their respects to battlefield areas that have visitors centers built on the property to take in all the people who want to share in and see firsthand these historic sites. All of them are, again, places of immense carnage and death numbering in the hundreds and thousands. People visit the 911 site built as a memorial for reverence of what happened there. Oso was terrible, a shock, a grievous event that occurred to people we know, love and remember in this area. That does not mean the land they died on is somehow private, restricted land for those who wish to keep anybody away from what happened. It’s an event that happened here, there are those who know it as a natural disaster and, like Mt St Helens, wish to see the site where it occurred, where 57 people died in the area surrounding it, where there are several visitor’s centers to allow for people to visit, regardless their intent. People should be allowed to view what was a disaster area without fear of harboring any ill feelings from survivors or inappropriate intent merely for viewing an area from a public river.

  • Phil Pace

    The slide was a horrific event and I think most people understand there is nothing anyone can do to bring these family members back. I, like most people hope we learn something from this tragedy as well as providing any additional support to help heal those suffering.

    That being said, closing access to the river is wrong in many ways. Yes, people died and that was a tragedy but closing the river won’t bring them back. You say it is hallowed ground, but all who perished have been found. If someone wants to build a memorial, I think there would be an abundance of support for that. I would think the best way to honor the people who perished, would to let other people see what and where it happened.

    I can understand why some of the families who lost loved ones in the Oso mudslide are upset at the idea of tourists rafting through the slide zone. Pacific Northwest Float Trips, made a small mistake by not advising victim’s family members first. If public lands and rivers were closed because of someone’s death, we would have no open public lands or rivers.

    I’m not sure what the victim’s families want to see changed with respect to the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River being free and open. The chances of that river’s status being changed from free and open are about 0%.

    I hope Pacific Northwest Float Trips can come to some type of agreement with the families, through I’m not sure an agreement is necessary, pursues this float trip as it will honor those who lost their lives.

    • Tina Byard

      I agree! The float company being controlled by the surviving families is wrong!. This man who is heading the float trip tours was generous beyond what he had to be by offering something to families. He shouldn’t have to though. That will just open up doors to the remaining survivors of any tragedy making money off it! That is wrong! Time to move on and stop bringing on a headache which reopens and doesn’t allow healing .. The Oso River belongs to us all! Those who wish to travel through the area can bend a head in prayer to reflect and remember those that fateful day, but the River is there to enjoy, remember, and time will help heal the sadness it brought upon many.! It can also refresh the reminders how any waterway can be deadly when Natural disasters occur. It is a powerful reminder that hillsides, rock, water, clear cutting can all mean trouble in right combinations.

  • Roger Holsen

    I can understand feeling sad at the loss of family members, but you have to look at
    the public interest as expressing reverence for those who died. By these same
    standards, then, we would have to close the following tourist sites:

    Mount Saint Helens where 57 people died, and some are still entombed in the ash.
    The Alamo where about 200 people died.
    The USS Arizona where 1,177 people died, (and many are still in the ship.)
    Ground Zero where 3000 people died.

  • Think about it i dare you

    people die every were one earth…….who gives a shit if some one wants to raft through the HISTORICAL mud slide area its part of our HISTORY not just the victims families. as tragic as it may have been and still may be who cares if you dont like it. let it go its been a while now time to move on.

  • Saw McGraw

    You people up in Oso need to get over it and move on….you dont own the land, the river, the forest, the mountains we the public own it and should be able access this area anytime so lets grow up abit here and move on….. period…..

    • VictoriaLeatta

      Is the world really this insensitive? You all can hide behind your computer screens and judge us. There are still human remains lost out there forever. The pieces of people that they couldn’t find! What this company is doing is outrageous. I want to seriously hurt those who tell us to get over it. My whole towns sence of safety is gone. With one change in my schedule that day and I could have been buried there to. This is something that can’t just be gotten over. It will be a long while before anyone from Oso or Darrington will be able to even be at peace with what happened!

      • Gato

        I understand that all the remains were retrieved. I do feel sorry for the families who lost members. But death is part of life and read my earlier post. There are many, many places where people died and are today places of rememberance. Read my earlier post.

  • Tina Byard

    The waterway didn’t belong to anyone who lost their lives, nor does it belong to survivors! The tours are functioning part of the River life, it can educate and further the understanding of those who perished, just like the Memorial in Pearl Harbor. countless numbers perished in New Orleans, yet no one is making an issue on closing waterways where a person was last seen! They closed all searches, they ended all possible means of getting lost remains back. Yes! Tragedy hit! Yes! It still hurts, but life goes on for the waterways, as did for the Mt. St Helen’s area, that River open to fishing, hiking, etc etc. No one went to court to try and stop anyone from travelling the Pacific Ocean after the War took countless lives. as OSO River is not the personal possession of anyone, living or not EVER! The Water is used for recreational purposes includes to float down the River! Besides, this float trip isn’t to get people out on shore to dig! Get real! I think those who are throwing this out of norm are trying to gain what they don’t have any rights to! THEY DO NOT OWN THAT RIVER! That is the only thing that they need to realize. The River is a Natural feature in State of Washington, not the surviving families to say who can and cannot travel it!

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