Stuck Manitoba truckers waiting for help

Some trucking companies are still trying to figure out a way to get stranded drivers back from the shores of Wrong Lake in northern Manitoba.
Thick mud prevented a trucker, 52, from going any farther. He had to be rescued by helicopter. ((RCMP))
Some trucking companies are still trying to figure out a way to get stranded drivers back from the shores of Wrong Lake in northern Manitoba.

At least half a dozen semi-trailer units became mired when mild temperatures turned frozen roads into soft mud.

"If I don't hear anything much sooner here, I'm gonna send … a couple of quads and a low-bed and a 'cat [Bobcat compact tractor] and go find them," said Bruce Graham, who owns Far North Transport Ltd., based in Gimli, Man.

A convoy of trucks from various companies that left St. Theresa Point, about 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg, on Friday was headed back to the city when many became stuck.

Graham's company employs three of those drivers. He said he has only seen this sort of situation a couple of times before in his 30 years of trucking.

Driver rescued by helicopter

Another company alerted the RCMP in Poplar River Monday morning that one of its drivers was believed to be in need of help.

The driver, 52, has made brief contact with his employer early Sunday morning, saying he was stranded on the north side of Wrong Lake.

A helicopter had to be used to rescue a stranded trucker from mud on a formerly frozen road. ((RCMP))
The man, who became separated from the convoy, said he had no food and feared for his life because he was a diabetic and needed his medication, according to RCMP.

An officer in a plane located him on a road out of Bloodvein First Nation on Monday. There was no place to land, so a helicopter was chartered and the man was airlifted out.

A second driver was pulled out of the mud on a road near God's Lake Narrows overnight Tuesday, according to an official with Manitoba Search and Rescue.

The man was then able to follow a more reliable route and drive away at about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Bring emergency supplies: rescue agency

Provincial search commander George Leonard said nobody should try the road out of Bloodvein First Nation, and many of the others are not much better.

"If anybody has to drive, we are telling them to drive at night so it's as cold as possible [and the road is as hard as possible] but it's just turning into mush up here," Leonard said.

He also urged drivers to take precautions: "Bring gas, bring provisions, bring food, tell us when you're leaving and when you're supposed to be here and if you're overdue, we'll come get you."

Manitoba search and rescue teams are typically called out to rescue at least 30 drivers from winter roads every year, Leonard said.

Roads open less than a month

Wrong Lake, about 350 kilometres north of Winnipeg, is part of the province's 2,200-kilometre winter road system to northern and remote communities. The roads cross frozen muskeg, lakes, rivers and creeks to temporarily connect those regions with the rest of the province.

Manitoba's winter road network, which passes through boreal forest, has become treacherous as mild temperatures have turned it into muck. ((RCMP))
Usually, the roads would be open for about eight weeks over the season, enabling trucks to bring in a year's worth of food, fuel and supplies. But this year the roads were open for less than a month.

Mild weather delayed their start and a warmer-than-usual spring had deteriorated ice conditions.

On Monday, the provincial government declared the road system would be closed as of midnight. That means the provincial insurance won't cover any damages sustained by vehicles on the roads.

In spite of that, many truckers are still willing to risk the ride, said John Healey, who owns a fishing resort in God's Lake Narrows. That's because there's still a demand for it — flying in supplies costs companies and communities 10 times the amount as deliveries by truck, he said.

With colder weather forecast for this weekend, Healey expects some drivers to push their luck, though he's not sure that's a good idea.

"These roads, or bush roads or whatever you want to call it now, they probably will freeze but they are tore up so bad, the ruts are three feet deep," he said.

This was the shortest winter road season he can remember, Healy said, and he considers himself lucky to have brought in most of his materials before the roads deteriorated.