Searching family able to say their goodbyes

OSO — In a sea of brown, they searched for a sliver of blue.

On Wednesday, they spotted the elusive glimmer.

Part of Summer Raffo’s car — a shaft that supports the windshield — finally poked through the mire.

Dayn Brunner had walked past the same spot more than once, scouring the area for any sign of his sister’s 2002 Subaru. It took a heavy rain to expose its whereabouts.

The Oso mudslide entombed Raffo’s car about 400 feet south of Highway 530. The roof was ripped off. The windshield lay in her lap.

For five days, Brunner searched for her, often with friends and family nearby.

They were out again Wednesday, along with search teams made of firefighters and volunteers from their home town of Darrington.

The search had been daunting from the start. Everything was coated in brown. Landmarks had been swallowed up, making it hard to grid a search. Footing was treacherous. Searchers with 6-foot metal poles zigzagged through the muck, prodding.

A young man from Darrington was the one to spot the blue shaft. He dug a bit and found more metal.

Soon, he was surrounded by five other members of his search team. Another team joined them, swelling the excavation party to a dozen.

They wiped the mud from her face. Rhonda Cook, a family friend, was called over.

She knew right away it was Raffo, still in the driver’s seat.

Raffo, whose side job was trimming horses’ hooves, had been driving west toward Trafton for an 11 a.m. appointment when the hill collapsed.

Cook called Brunner who was searching in another area with his son, Riley, a Darrington High School junior.

Brunner asked the boy, “Are you ready for this?”

His son nodded.

When they reached the car, all the searchers paused to pay their respects to the father and son.

It took an hour to free her from the mud. Then came their goodbyes.

They asked a Federal Emergency Management Agency worker for time so Raffo’s brothers Jason Brunner and Cheyenne Smith could be there, too.

“You can take all the time you need,” the FEMA worker told him.

Dayn Brunner, his family and friends were allowed to carry his sister to the landing zone where a Black Hawk helicopter arrived to fly her away. It mattered that she was surrounded by loved ones when she was found.

Work came to a halt. Nothing moved.

“Every one of those rescue workers stopped what they were doing to pay their respects,” Brunner said. “It is amazing to watch that.”

Now, Brunner said, it is time to turn his attention toward others.

“I am taking today to grieve,” he said Thursday. “Me and my son will be back out there tomorrow to try to bring the same closure that we were able to have.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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