After weeks of planning, crew lifts truck from frozen river in 'nerve-wracking' job

·2 min read

After weeks of planning and preparation, a three-man crew lifted thousands of kilograms of ice and truck from the Des Rocher River before the river ice melted.

The truck fell through the ice on Jan. 2 roughly 80 metres off the Fort Chipewyan winter road. The driver was not injured.

But hoisting the truck was no easy task for the crew. It took roughly three weeks to stabilize the surrounding ice so the crew could work safely. A warmer winter meant the ice was not strong enough to support the cranes or heavy machinery usually used for these jobs.

Then it took two weeks to design and build a frame system that could lift the truck from the frozen river. By late February, the crew was ready to begin working.

“When you’re dealing with ice, you’re dealing with Mother Nature and there is inherent danger in that,” said Brett Wildman, construction superintendent for Big Ice Services in Creighton, Sask. “It’s not as easy or simple as it looks, and there is a lot of thought that goes into these ice recoveries.”

A challenge for Wildman and his crew was estimating the weight of the truck once it was filled with ice and water. The crew estimated about 11,000 kilograms of ice would be attached to the truck. Once the truck was attached to tow trucks and the frame system with cables, the three workers spent five hours freeing the truck with chainsaws.

“There’s always a tense moment when you’ve got your cut around the vehicle and you’ve got it all hooked up to the framework,” said Wildman. “It’s always a nerve-wracking piece when you’re waiting for that final pop where it sets itself free.”

Wildman said Big Ice deals with a handful of similar cases annually. He has been building ice roads since 1999 and usually deals with fuel tankers that have fallen through ice.

But, the truck on the winter road presented its own unique risks. There's always a chance a vehicle trapped in ice can sink as spring arrives, taking any equipment it's attached to with it. Wildman said it was important the truck be lifted from the river to prevent environmental damage.

“We’re protecting out pristine waters,” he said. “We don’t want to have vehicles that have oil, antifreeze and hydrocarbons in the waterways.”

In an email, municipal spokesperson Greg Bennett said these incidents on the winter road are rare. Public Works coordinated with Big Ice to make sure there were no temporary winter road closures as the crew removed the truck.

Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today