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March 25th, 2014
06:10 PM ET

Pilot helped rescue brave toddler from mudslide: 'We call him our little trooper'

(CNN) – Volunteer search and rescue helicopter pilot Ed Hrivnak was about to launch a training mission with his crew, when the rescue supervisor said he wanted them to investigate a nearby mudslide.

"We had no idea of the concept or the scope of this disaster," Hrivnak tells CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

Saturday's massive mudslide in rural Washington state covered about a square mile and was caused by groundwater saturation tied to heavy rain in the area over the past month.

"There were downed power lines. We didn't know if they were energized or not. There were trees broken in different directions. There were just a lot of hazards. And the houses exploded from the mud," he says.

In the immediate aftermath, Hrivnak's crew scoured the debris, rescuing eight people over the weekend.

On one mission, as the crew was lowering down a rescuer to help a critical patient, the crew chief pointed out a little boy stuck in the mud. The crew tried to land the helicopter, but the mud was like thick, freshly poured concrete.

"We decided to inch our way over to the boy and hovered next to him, about a foot away and a foot above the mud," Hrivnak says.

"Our crew chief tried to pull him into the helicopter, but he was suctioned into the mud, and couldn't get him out. Our other rescue technician stepped out from the skid ... and reached down to grab the boy. And between the two of them they were able to bring him in," says the helicopter pilot.

The mud was so thick and heavy, the 4-year-old's pants came off as the crew pulled him in.

Throughout the whole ordeal, the toddler remained calm.

"The crew referred to him as our little trooper," says Hrivnak.

"He didn't cry, he didn't move, he didn't budge. He just stood there and followed our direction. He was a very composed little man," says the rescuer.

The young boy's father and three of his siblings are still missing, says Hrivnak, citing local reports.

The death toll Tuesday stands at 14, with 176 others unaccounted for or missing.

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