Ric Cooper, a resident of Northwest Arkansas, felt the clutching at his chest too late to turn back on Trek 4 of the Philmont Boy Scout Camp near Cimarron, N.M.
All he could get out was the word “Jim,” and he was tumbling backwards.
“Jim,” because the second chaperone on this journey was Dr. Jim Hattabaugh, principal at Trinity Junior High School in Fort Smith and second of a required two adult chaperones on the trip.
Cooper didn’t have time to call out the names of the nine boys with him: Brian Boatright, Eric Boltuc, Joseph Boltuc, Eli Hattabaugh, Ian Hattabaugh, Cameron Mask, Matthew Schultz, Alex Sharum, and Joseph Smith.
He didn’t need it. Instantly, the members of Boy Scout Troop 3 sprung to action and did “exactly what needed to be done to save the man’s life,” Hattabaugh said.
Jim rushed to Cooper, who’d taken “a five-foot drop,” according to 17-year old Subiaco Academy student Joseph Boltuc, and began chest compressions.
Then, Jim’s son Eli, a 17-year old student of Fort Smith Southside High School, stepped in and “gave two breaths” followed by another set of 30 chest compressions. Halfway through, “he started gasping for air and came back,” Eli said.
Meanwhile, Mask, Smith, and Sharum, set up a tarp using “ropes, hiking sticks, stuff like that,” said Smith, a 15-year old student of Fort Smith Northside High School. Their goal: to keep Cooper safe from the raging July sun.
“We (Mask, Sharum, Smith) actually stuck together most of the time. The wind coming through the trees kept sounding like there were cars coming down the roads, so me and Cameron went down to see if there actually was,” said Smith.
Boatright, Eric, Ian, and Schultz, lit out for the Cyphers Mine base camp to report the emergency.
The four boys made the run after three hours on the trail carrying 45-pound backpacks on an uphill journey of 2,000 feet, Jim Hattabaugh added.
They had four miles in front of them starting from an altitude of 11,000 feet.
“We ran down the contour road, and when we got down there, we were all out of breath. It had taken almost an hour and a half to get there. We told the staff what had happened, and they radioed in,” said Schultz, a 16-year old student of Fort Smith Southside.
“It was hot. I wish we would have brought water,” said Eric Boltuc, a 14-year old student at Trinity Junior High School.
“We had to pace ourselves,” added Eric’s Trinity classmate Ian Hattabaugh, also 14.
While the crew of four, which included Boatright, who lives in Florida and was unable to participate in The City Wire interview, were providing the Cyphers Mine base camp with vital information on the heart attack victim, Mask and Smith were “about 100 meters down” from the heart attack site, waiting to catch responders when they arrived.
While this was going on, Eli and fellow scout leader Joseph Boltuc attempted to cool off Cooper, finally leaving him with Jim Hattabaugh, and racing up to a higher altitude to find a cell phone signal.
After making contact, Joseph Boltuc and Eli headed back down to check on Cooper.
It was at that time that Cooper “began to talk and answer questions,” Jim Hattabaugh said.
“He wanted to sit up for 30 minutes, but we thought that probably was not a good idea, and made him wait a bit longer. Then he did sit up and continued to talk and kind of kid — joke around with the kids a little bit. The emergency crew showed up about an hour later and put him on oxygen, and he actually walked out back down to the road.”
When asked about what it took to keep calm in the situation, scout leader Joseph Boltuc states: “Most of the time you’re thinking stuff, but a lot of it is just adrenaline. You go through what you need to do in emergencies: First Aid, get to a staff camp, call help lodge. So I mean, you’re thinking stuff, but at the same time, your body’s just kind of reacting to what’s happening.”
The boys said they were each pleased with the actions of their fellow scouts when pressed for reflections of the event.
Mask, a 17-year old Subiaco Academy student, said, “it was a bit unsettling obviously, but I was pretty pleased with how our whole crew reacted to the situation, and did what needed to be done to save his life.”
Schultz added that “no one was just sitting around. Everyone in our crew did something to help.”
In the moment, the boys also agreed that there was little time to be scared.
“When I realized what had happened, I tried doing what I needed to do to fix it. There was little panic,” Eli Hattabaugh said. “The panic came afterward.”
“That was the first time I’ve ever seen something like that,” said Sharum, a 15-year old student of Subiaco Academy. “Someone almost dying. The whole time I was scared, but it all set in more later.”
For Sharum and the rest, one of the worst parts was not knowing what would happen next.
“We didn’t really know what was happening to him, and they wouldn’t tell us very much.”
Boy Scout Troop 3 spent the next two days at the Black Mountain Camp waiting for news. Jim Hattabaugh tried keeping their minds busy with “blacksmith training, black powder shooting, playing 1880’s baseball,” he said.
“You go through the whole thing again in your head a few times,” Eli said. “But keeping active at the camp helped push that out of my head, and then it came down to hoping Ric was okay.”
Cooper was taken to Albuquerque, N.M., for a double bypass operation and is still recovering. Though unable to participate in The City Wire interview, he sent word through Dan Wald, Boy Scout Roundtable Commissioner of the Westark Area Council, that he wanted to recognize the boys’ actions in saving his life.
Marna Boltuc, mother of Eric and Joseph, reflected proudly on the accomplishment.
“I think they have a special bond together because some of these boys have been in school together since kindergarten, and have been in the same troop, many of them, for five years. They know each other and know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. They were smart in sending Matthew, Eric, Ian and Brian on that run. Each of them gave their God-given talents, and I think that’s really cool.”