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Whidbey Island NAS Chief: Losing limb not end of the world
An admirer of the region’s beautiful waterfalls, William “Billy” Wolf set out alone July 5 on his motorcycle.
That afternoon, Wolf lost control of his bike, slid into a ravine, hit a log or rock and went over his handlebars. He broke his neck, injuring his spine which rendered him paralyzed.
As he lie paralyzed face down somewhere in the North Cascades, Wolf said he prayed that God would either take him, or someone would find him.
When he awoke each morning, he said he realized it might not be his time to go.
“I called up to the Lord and asked if it was my time and the Lord said, ‘No!,’” Wolf said during an interview Saturday.
Wolf, a quality assurance senior chief with VAQ 136 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, spent three days alone in the wilderness after the accident.
When Wolf did not report for duty Friday morning, Navy staff became concerned and launched a search in conjunction with the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office and Day Creek volunteer firefighters.
Searchers spent two days looking in the wrong area.
They finally contacted his best friend and fellow Senior Chief Ryan Stauffer, who was deployed aboard an aircraft carrier. He knew exactly where Wolf was headed.
Relying on Stauffer’s information, Wolf was located within minutes.
According to law enforcement agencies, Wolf was found July 7 on Forest Service Road No. 1755 in the Finney-Cumberland area, south of the South Skagit Highway. His bike was found nearby.
Wolf was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle by the Navy’s Search and Rescue unit.
“They come together and they find you,” Stauffer said. “Joe Blow civilian wouldn’t have been found for weeks.”
Wolf’s initial prognosis was not good.
As a result of three days of paralysis, his right leg did not get enough circulation. It had to be amputated from the knee down.
His right arm was shattered and had to be reconstructed. Though his broken neck rendered him a paraplegic, surgeons were able to restore much of his functionality.
Today, after more than a year of rehabilitation, Wolf is able to get around either in a wheelchair or by using a prosthetic leg.
He remained at Harborview until recent months. He was released to live with his son, stationed at Fort Lewis.
Earlier this month, Wolf was able to go back and visit his medical staff at Harborview.
“I got to walk in,” Wolf said. “It was so awesome to meet them. The orthopedic surgeon who put my arm back together couldn’t believe how well I was doing.”
Wolf said it was the support of his Navy family, both during the search and through his recovery process, that kept him motivated. Even chiefs from Lewis-McChord, where he was previously stationed, came on him at the hospital.
Fellow Navy chiefs were frequent guests at Harborview, Wolf said, offering encouragement and hassling him
“In the hospital they gave him crap for not having a haircut or being in uniform,” Stauffer said jokingly.
“They’d say, ‘senior chief you need to square yourself away,’” Wolf said. “The Navy really took good care of me. The support chain is what got me through.”
Wolf was able to thank them in person earlier this month at the Chief Officer’s Club on Ault Field Road. The key, Wolf said, is that being a part of the Navy chief community is like becoming part of a very loyal family.
“They say a chief never forgets,” Stauffer said. “It was overwhelming and it showed us, hey this is real.”
Moving forward, Wolf said he has made peace with what happened and is eager to move forward with his life. He plans to still work in aviation or volunteer with the Department of Veterans Affairs working with other amputees. He and Stauffer visited the crash site last week, which gave Wolf some closure, he said.
“It felt good,” Wolf said. “I had peace of mind with it.”
“The world doesn’t stop because you’ve lost a limb.”