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How a crew of three pulled 30,000 lbs of truck and ice out of a frozen river

A three-man crew used chainsaws and a hand-over-hand jack to lift 15 tons of ice and truck out of a river before it could plunge 40 feet to the bottom.

'It was a lot of labour. It took us about four and a half to five hours'

The truck was removed from the Des Rochers River near Fort Chipewyan, Alta., along with a few tons of ice. (Submitted by Ray Rossington)

A three-man crew used chainsaws and a hand-over-hand jack to lift 15 tons of ice and truck out of a frozen river near Fort Chipewyan, Alta., before it could plunge 40 feet to the bottom.

The truck fell through the ice near the winter road at Fort Chipewyan in January, leaving the nose of the truck sticking out of the Des Rochers River until late February.

That's when Big Ice Services was hired by the municipality to put together a plan to crank the truck out of the river. 

Ray Rossington, president of Ross Industries which owns Big Ice Services, called the extraction a challenging one as the ice weighed five times as much as the truck — with the entire load coming in around 30,000 pounds.

The truck needed to be removed because if it sunk, the oil and fuel would have leached into the river, which is "totally unacceptable," Rossington said.

Brett Wildman, construction superintendent, was one of the three men onsite for the truck recovery. 

"I'm kind of used to it," said Wildman, who has 25 years of experience in the industry. 

He said it took about a month to build up the ice around the truck to make it safe to do the work, as the truck had fallen through unstable ice. 

On the day of the extraction, Wildman and his crew used chainsaws to cut the truck out of the river.

"If a person fell in the water he would've probably went under the ice never to be recovered again," Rossington said. "So all of them were on life-lines with harnesses and ropes." 

On many extractions, workers are able to bring in cranes to help lift vehicles out of the water, but that wasn't an option in this case. 

"If we had a metre and a half of ice we could've used some cranes," Wildman said. "This way we had to use small tools."

Big Ice Services had worked with engineering companies to build a rig that could hoist the truck out of the water, before assembling it over the truck.

The men had to hoist the truck and all the ice out of the river using a hand-over-hand jack. Once the truck was out of the water, the men pulled the frame and the truck onto thicker ice using a loader. 

"It was a lot of labour. It took us about four and a half to five hours," Wildman said.

And the temperature that day? A cool -38 C.

Brett Wildman, left, Dennis Laird, centre, and Dale Buick worked to bring the truck out of the river. (Submitted by Brett Wildman)

Getting the truck out of the river, without hiccups was "very gratifying," Wildman said. 

"The plan actually all worked out exactly like we thought," he said. 

"There's been reports of some vehicles in the past over the years being lost in the river that were never found," Wildman said.

Ray Rossington, president of Ross Industries which owns Big Ice Services, helped plan the extraction for weeks. (Submitted by Ray Rossington)

Greg Bennett, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo spokesperson, said there were safety and environmental concerns in regard to the truck.

And the extraction was coordinated so the winter road to Fort Chipewyan didn't have to close, Bennett said in an email.

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