One morning in May, a few days before the peak closed, the park’s staff of 10 was ready to go home.
A half-dozen of them were there, and with a heavy heart, they’d been forced to go.
The group of people were all in suits and ties, and there was one on the floor of the tent.
He wasn’t sure what was wrong with him.
The man’s wife had just lost her job.
They’d been expecting their second child, and they’d taken care of it all in their new home in the park.
He knew they were in for a shock when they returned.
The group had arrived in a helicopter with four other people, but when they arrived at the park, it was the helicopter that had crashed.
The men were badly burned.
They were all on life support.
They had just survived a brutal tornado.
“I knew I was going to be okay,” one of the survivors, Tom, told me.
Tom was a firefighter in the same fire department as his friend, Mike, who’d just graduated from the same job.
It was a different day than the other days.
They weren’t supposed to be there, but they were.
They arrived just as the park closed for the day.
They didn’t expect to be here.
When the fire broke out, the helicopter was already airborne.
They saw smoke billowing from a nearby gas station, and it looked like the pilot was on the ground, but the man was alive.
He had a broken arm and a broken leg.
His wife had been badly burned as well.
It felt like they’d be dead.
As the helicopter approached, the men were told to take cover and to be ready to evacuate.
But the helicopter crashed, and the fire continued to grow.
When Tom and Mike got back to their tents, they didn’t know if they’d ever see each other again.
By the time they made it back to camp, Tom had a hole in his foot.
Mike had been shot in the head.
The other man had been struck by lightning.
After the fire was under control, the survivors were flown to an emergency shelter in the town of Garside, where they were put on a bus to the hospital.
They stayed overnight, but doctors there said the damage to their bones had left them too fragile to survive.
A few days later, Tom and his wife, Debra, went to see their son, Ryan, at the hospital where they’d just been taken.
He’d been injured in the crash.
His brother had also been hit by lightning, but he survived.
They asked him what he thought of the crash, and he said, “I don’t think anyone should have to die like that.”
As the recovery was underway, they had no idea how much damage they’d done.
They hadn’t been able to get out of their tent because the fire had grown so much.
They only knew that their car had burned.
When Tom told his wife he didn’t want to go back to Yellowstone anymore, she didn’t understand what he meant.
He said he was going home, but she still didn’t believe him.
She didn’t think she’d be okay, either.
It was the winter of 1993, and Tom and Debra were still living with their parents, who had moved to California a few years earlier.
When they went to stay with their mom in the mountains, she told them that they’d have to pay for their own car insurance.
“I thought, ‘What is this?'” she said.
She wanted to pay the insurance companies, but Tom said he could pay his own.
When she asked him how he knew this, he told her that he’d seen the helicopters on TV.
He drove her to the hotel, where he told his mom that he would take her to Yellowstone for an overnight stay.
She went, but her brother and her sister were nowhere to be found.
Debra was in a coma when she died in her room.
For the next three years, she had nightmares about what happened to her family.
In the meantime, she and Tom spent every day trying to understand what had happened to them.
The two were the only survivors from the accident.
But they had to work hard to understand.
What had happened was a terrible accident.
They survived because they were strong, resilient people who had the courage to survive in the face of a great threat.
They understood that a person with the courage of their convictions was stronger than a person who had nothing but compassion for others.
They knew they could have been better off, but that’s not what they were trying to achieve.
They also understood that it’s okay to be hurt.
They understand that we can learn to live with pain and that we shouldn’t be afraid to get help.
The lessons they learned are the ones that would