KENAI, Alaska — On March 22, the Oso landslide claimed the lives of Natasha Huestis’ baby daughter and mother.
Nearly 1,500 miles away, Steve Attleson, owner of ATEC Marine in Kenai, Alaska, had recently completed a 56-foot boat. During most of the year it took to build it, Attleson planned to name the boat after his mother. At first, he said, she was excited about the idea.
But then Gemey Glover, who lives in Marysville, called her son and suggested that instead he do something to honor the searchers and victims of the slide. “And I thought, ‘Ya know, that is a better idea,’ ” he said.
He asked Huestis how she felt about his naming the boat after her daughter, Sanoah, who was 4 months old when she was killed along with her grandmother, Christina Jefferds, 45.
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“I was all in,” Huestis said.
Last Sunday in Homer, Alaska, where the boat was taken earlier this month, Huestis took part in a christening ceremony.
Attleson also christened a 32-foot vessel the company built, which as a surprise, he named after his mother, who also flew up.
The 56-foot landing craft is the biggest ATEC has built. The 1,200-horsepower boat can run in excess of 20 knots with 20,000 pounds onboard. Other vessels of similar size run 8 or 9 knots, Attleson said.
“And it’s just a cool boat — big, fast and strong,” he said.
“Hopefully by naming the boat after Sanoah, that will somewhat honor the victims there and the efforts of the search-and-rescue people that participated in that,” he said.
The morning of the slide, Huestis, 26, and a single parent, went to a yoga class and her stepdad left the house as well. Her mom stayed home to baby-sit Sanoah.
Seth Jefferds, Huestis’ stepdad, is part of the volunteer fire department in Oso. He was one of the first responders on the scene, Huestis said.
Close to noon, another firefighter called Huestis on Seth Jefferds’ phone and told her to get to the fire station. He said there had been a landslide. “I didn’t understand,” she said.
Huestis tried calling the house phone and her mom’s cellphone. Both phones were dead.
She arrived at the fire station where Seth Jefferds was.
“When I saw my stepdad, he just grabbed me and hugged me and he said that everything’s gone,” she said.
Crews wouldn’t let people into the area, she said, because they were afraid of the hill sliding again.
But the next afternoon, Huestis says she and a friend sneaked into the area.
“It had just been 24 hours,” she said. “It was really cold in March, and I figured that, if anything, my mom could have been holding onto my daughter at least 24 hours. She could have made it. At least that.”
That night, crews recovered Christina Jefferds’ body. Four days later, Sanoah’s body was found.
With Sanoah gone, “I wake up in the middle of the night still because I’m like, ‘Where is (Sanoah)?’ ” Huestis said.
Recently, Huestis woke up one morning, saw a picture of Sanoah and didn’t feel like she knew her.
“It just feels like I just lived this second life,” she said.
Both Huestis’ mother and daughter were cremated. The family isn’t sure what they want to do with Christina Jefferds’ remains. But Huestis has started spreading Sanoah’s ashes on mountains in Washington.
So far she has made it to Disappointment Cleaver on Mount Rainier and to Mount Pilchuck. She plans to scatter some ashes on Mount Baker, Whitehorse Mountain and at the summit of Rainier. In October for Sanoah’s birthday, Huestis plans to fly to Hawaii, where Sanoah’s father lives, and spread ashes at the top of Mount Haleakala on Maui.