Scouts in Tornado Help Save Lives

Putting their skills to test, Boy Scouts trapped in tornado take heroic action.

ByABC News
June 12, 2008, 8:08 AM

June 12, 2008 — -- A tornado that smashed through a Boy Scout camp in Iowa with little warning killed four of the campers and injured 48, but the state's governor and scout leaders said they marveled at how the surviving boys rallied to dig out their friends, set up triage sites and administer first aid.

Two other people were killed by twisters that swept through Kansas, the latest casualties in a particularly violent tornado season this year.

But the damage wreaked at the remote Little Sioux Scout Ranch was near total. When it was over, scouts were found huddled under tables, clinging to a metal pole, while others were buried under a fireplace that had collapsed and killed at least one scout.

Officials said four teenagers died in the camp. They were identified as Aaron Eilerts, 14 from Eagle Grove, Iowa; Josh Fennen, 13, Sam Thomsen, 13, and Ben Petrzilka, 13, all from Omaha.

What is emerging from the catastrophe are tales of a ferocious twister that left the camp in ruins, as well as the heroism of the scouts, who lived up to their motto "Be prepared."Iowa Gov. Chet Culver toured the remains of the camp and was briefed on the casualties.

He told "Good Morning America" that "the young men that survived were the real heroes. Amazing stories of them using their own techniques they had learned helping the people who were injured and as the governor of Iowa, I'm very proud of those young men."

At a news conference later this morning, Culver said their first aid "literally saved lives" while they waited for emergency services to reach them.

Lloyd Roitstein, an executive with the Mid America Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said the surviving boys triaged the injured and used their first aid training to set tourniquets and bandages on the injured.

He praised their "bravery and courage," adding, "they performed remarkably."

At least a dozen people remain hospitalized Thursday afternoon with injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to major head trauma. Several of the most serious cases were flown by helicopter to hospitals in Omaha and Sioux City, Iowa.

The National Weather Service said several tornado watches for the area were issued earlier in the day, but the scouts had at most only 12 minutes to find safety from the moment the tornado was spotted and when it struck the camp with winds around 135 mph. The scouts likely had even less time to find a secure spot because it would have taken another minute or more for the warning siren to be triggered.

Video from KETV showed splintered trees along the dirt road into the camp as well as cars belonging the campers crumpled and tossed onto their sides. Flimsy tents were strewn about and the only thing left of the site's pavilion was its cement slab floor and heavy concrete blocks and bricks in a small pile where the chimney once was. Other cement blocks scattered around the grounds. The pavilion's walls and roof were tossed against trees a short distance away.

When the twister struck, the 93 scouts and 25 adults were divided into two groups. One was in camp, but the other was out hiking on the 1,800-acre Little Sioux Scout Ranch, which includes steep hills, a 15-acre lake and a rifle range.

The tornado came up so quickly that they had little chance to seek cover. Many of the campers huddled in what Culver called a bunk house that withstood the onslaught. Others hid in a ditch.

But many ran to a pavilion that took a direct hit from the tornado.