published: 15 August 2017
by: Steven Merritt
WASILLA — A Palmer truck driver escaped injury but his rig did not fare as well and ended up in the Matanuska River after an early-morning incident on the Glenn Highway near Sutton on Friday.
According to an online Alaska State Trooper dispatch posted Sunday, Joel Barber, 40, was headed south near mile 70 of the Glenn around 3:30 a.m. when he was forced to swerve to avoid an oncoming vehicle. The evasive action caused Barber’s blue 2012 Freightliner — which didn’t have a trailer — to leave the road, where Barber was able to get out of the truck before it went into the river, according to troopers.
Barber was uninjured, according to the report, and the trooper investigation in ongoing.
A recovery effort for the truck was begun Saturday afternoon. Troopers took a second look after initially deeming the truck as unrecoverable, according to Help Line Towing operations manager Cody Gray. An unknown amount of fuel remained in the rig’s tanks.
“They initially thought it probably wasn’t going to be recovered,” Gray said Tuesday. “But one of the troopers went back out there and took another look and called me around noon.”
Gray said the state issued an impound slip which put the process in motion, with the recovery bill going to the truck’s owner. It was unclear if Barber was the rig’s owner.
Gray, a Valley resident who said he has specialized in heavy equipment and vehicle recovery over the years, said by later in the weekend the truck had moved some three-quarters of a mile downstream and was “pretty well submerged.”
“It was a good 220 feet into the river (from the shore,)” Gray said, adding that the truck left the road at a spot where there was no guardrail. “It had gotten hung up… so we got out there and put a plan together.”
That plan involved an airboat, some high-tensile cable a Caterpillar D8 bulldozer, which all came together Sunday afternoon.
After attaching the winch cable to the truck, the boat was used to ferry the cable back to the dozer.
“We got the D8 — which had a big spool winch — situated on the bank and brought in the airboat,” Gray said. “We attached the cable to the truck’s fifth wheel, but the first cable we used was too heavy — the current was pulling the boat around. So we switched to a half-inch, high-tensile (cable) and were able to get that back to the dozer.”
Once there, the dozer winch went to work, pulling the rig across the current and free of the turbid, glacial river by mid-afternoon Sunday. It was then towed by the dozer a half-mile to the road.
Gray, who also got help from crews from Vulcan Towing, said the effort was an exercise in Alaskan problem solving.
“We find it challenging, these types of things — I’ve been doing specialty recovery operations all my life,” Gray said. “When someone says it can’t be done, I like to take those jobs.”