Lucky to be alive

By Kelly Ducote, The Observer February 14, 2014 11:22 am

Dan Koopman’s vehicle was totaled but he was not injured when he was caught in a landslide Wednesday night. Koopman says the experience was life changing and he is glad he made it out alive. (KGW TV photo)
Dan Koopman’s vehicle was totaled but he was not injured when he was caught in a landslide Wednesday night. Koopman says the experience was life changing and he is glad he made it out alive. (KGW TV photo)
 

La Grande man unhurt during landslide on I-84

A La Grande man is feeling lucky to be alive after he was caught in a rockslide on Interstate 84 Wednesday night.

Dan Koopman was traveling home from a meeting in Salem when the rocks started smashing into his car near Hood River. One boulder came crashing down in a near miss. 

“The nearest I could tell I met that boulder as it came down,” Koopman said in a phone interview Friday morning. “That’s what’s so life changing about this. If I had been a fraction of a second faster, I really think we’d be having a recovery story here. Timing was just amazing.”

Koopman, who works at Blue Mountain Community College and serves as an adjunct professor at Eastern Oregon University, said the visibility was low and vehicles were traveling at a moderate pace.

When Koopman realized what was happening, he did the only thing he could think to do: grab the wheel and brake hard. He thought the result would be far worse.

“When you come to a full stop that fast and you’re still hearing rock movement you just want to get out,” he said. “I thought for sure I was going to get crushed.”

He was able to open his door about a foot, get out and make it to the Jersey barrier, where he waited for first responders. Once they arrived, they were amazed Koopman was able to get out of the vehicle.

Once he was dropped off at a motel, the father of four was able to contact his family.

“Thank goodness for those clunky computers they put in motels,” Koopman said.

Koopman was not injured in the incident but is feeling some soreness from the impact.

“I would liken it to the worst buck-off I’ve ever had,” he said.

He made it back to La Grande Thursday evening with the help of EOU professor Shari Carpenter. Koopman said he plans to take the weekend to rest and recover to get back to work Monday. He won’t forget the life-changing experience, though.

“When you’re that close to death, it’s something that’s very powerful, very overwhelming,” he said. “I love my Lord and I know he has taken care of me.”

Oregon transportation officials say traffic along I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge will crawl through the weekend because of the landslide. Traffic was down to one lane westbound Thursday, with eastbound traffic blocked. It’s expected to stay that way until at least Monday, officials said.

The I-84 landslide started at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Its volume was estimated at 2,000 cubic yards.

“You can still hear the rocks tumbling down, and it’s the most eerie thing,” said spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddle of ODOT.

The Transportation Department plans to have a contractor send up workers called scalers who will use a mountaineering technique — rappelling — to descend the cliff and knock down the remaining loose rock so it will no longer be a danger, Dinwiddle said.

Officials hope to clear the road enough to open an eastbound lane Monday.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.