By Suzanne Stewart
The Pocahontas Times
Nine days after a devastating flood ripped through several areas in the state, search teams with Appalachian Mountain Man-Trailing and Rescue, of Dunmore, NSI-K9, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kentucky Bloodhound Search and Rescue were called into Greenbrier County to assist in the search for lost community members.
Among the searchers were AMMAR co-owners Dave and Sandy Weik, and their bloodhounds Sunny Ray and Lady Bird.
“The first time we were down there, we were down for a run for eight straight days, and we searched ten to twelve hours a day for the first eight days,” Dave said. “We had over ninety hours of actual boots on the ground search time the first eight days. The only reason we left then was our dogs were exhausted.”
Dave explained that with a good search dog, you can get four to five consecutive days before they need a break.
The hard work and push to search paid off July 2 when Lady Bird located the body of Nataysha Hughes, 33, of White Sulphur Springs, on The Greenbrier Resort golf course.
Crews continued to search, day in and day out, until there was only one missing person – Mykala Phillips, a 14-year-old girl from White Sulphur Springs.
On Aug. 9, seven weeks after the flooding, Lady Bird found Mykala in Caldwell.
The area where Mykala was found was searched weeks prior, but due to the terrain, it was difficult for search and rescue workers to fully inspect the area.
That area weighed heavy on Dave, and on Aug. 9, after he finished searching another area with a Division of Natural Resources officer, he said they should head to Caldwell.
“What took us back to that area was the fact that we had unfinished business there,” he said. “Three days into the search, we were searching the Caldwell bridge and the debris field, and the water level was still tremendously high. We had no way to go in there, so we came back to mission command and we told them we wanted to mark those three debris piles as a point of interest for future investigation, and we did.”
Dave and Lady Bird returned to that area and when he led Lady Bird, or LB, as Dave calls her, to the first two debris piles, she wasn’t interested at all.
At the third pile, Lady Bird indicated there was something of interest.
“We went to the third and as soon as she got there – her nose went to the ground, she looked at me and she sat and bayed,” Dave said. “This debris pile was about the size of my yard, so it’s huge and it’s about 20 feet tall. I looked at LB and I said, ‘come on girl. Look at the size of this pile. You’re going to have to do better than this. If Mykala’s here, I want you to show me where she is.’”
Lady Bird led Dave around the dangerous pile of debris which included propane tanks, building materials and tree branches.
At the top of the debris pile, Lady Bird indicated again and stubbornly showed Dave exactly where to look.
“When we got to the top of the debris pile, I walked in one direction and her lead got tight and I stopped,” Dave said. “I turned around and looked, and she was sitting right up against a locust log. That’s how she IDs. She usually sits and gives me her paw, but I didn’t actually see her sit. I told her to get back to work and she refused to get up. She looked back at her butt, like ‘right here, Dad,’ and then she bayed.”
Mykala was found where Lady Bird was sitting.
“It caused all of us in the search party – there were nine or ten of us there at that point – we all lost it,” Dave said. “We just all lost it. You never saw more grown men cry then you did at that precise moment we were able to identify that it was Mykala.”
Dave and the rest of the rescue crew immediately dug into the debris pile.
“At that point, the adrenaline kicked in, and we became mad men,” Dave recalled. “We moved things that people shouldn’t have been able to move without heavy equipment. We even called for backup and chainsaws and by the time they got there with everything, we already had her exhumed.”
As the men were digging into the pile, Lady Bird remained beside it.
“LB takes it very personally and when she claims it, it’s hers,” Dave said. “She guarded that pile yesterday after she found Mykala. She sat beside that pile the entire time we did the extraction, and she bayed for an hour. She took ownership of that, totally. People couldn’t even believe she was just there baying and baying. Not loud and not crying, but she was telling everybody, ‘I have her. I have her.’”
With the recovery of Mykala, the search is now over. All individuals who went missing during the flooding are now accounted for. Now is the time for closure and rebuilding.
Although he is not a member of the communities that suffered loss, Dave said the past two months have taken a toll on him and Lady Bird.
“Right now it’s stressful in that I’m still trying to cope with what happened,” he said. “It’s been haunting us for four weeks and with all the time we had, boots on the ground searching, and to come back and not have her – to put it lightly, it was a disappointment. Then to be able to go back and actually finish the job, Oh, my God, a thousand pound weight was lifted off the entire community of White Sulphur Springs.
“It haunted us,” he continued. “If I could tell you how many hours of sleep I lost the last four weeks. I didn’t sleep over four hours a night any given night since the initial search. Since we found Mykala, I haven’t slept probably two hours the last two nights because I’m still trying to cope and process everything. It’s weird, I was living with so much stress and all of a sudden, it was alleviated and now, it’s like I don’t know what to do.”
Lady Bird was feeling the strain, as well. While she could not convey her emotions through words, Lady Bird was visibly exhausted and sad.
“I’d almost say the first 24 hours after the fact, she was in mourning,” Dave said. “I could see that she was not her happy-go-lucky LB. She has bounced back now. She’s her happy-go-lucky LB again.”
Because of their efforts and success, Dave and Lady Bird have both been labeled heroes, a title they both deserve and carry gratefully.
“It’s all surreal – very surreal,” Dave said. “I think it’s going to take awhile for it all to sink in for all of us.” Mykala’s family stayed in contact with Dave.
“The family was adamant about LB and I being at the funeral, and that’s something we generally never do,” he said.
Attending funerals of search victims may not be what they do, but in this case, Dave and Lady Bird made an exception.
Now that the search is over, Greenbrier County, and West Virginia as a whole, can begin to mend itself, and focus on honoring the lives of Nataysha and Mykala and others who were lost in the devastating flood.
“Now it’s time to heal,” Dave said. “Now it’s time to rebuild. Now it’s time to move on. Everybody has their loved ones back, and we’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget the ninth day of August at 4:05 p.m. That date and that time will be embedded in my head forever.”