Truck that plunged through Deline ice road in 2016 was 4,000 kg overweight, report finds

At least three factors contributed to the fuel tanker falling through the ice: a crack in the ice road, variations in the thickness of the ice near the road, and the overweight truck.

Government report cites 3 factors that contributed to truck falling through the ice

A fuel truck went through the ice on the Deline access road in March 2016. A report from the Northwest Territories Infrastructure Department says three factors contributed to the crash. (Environment and Natural Resources)

A fuel tanker that plunged through the Deline ice road in March 2016 was at least 4,000 kilograms heavier than the posted weight limit for that road, according to a report from the Northwest Territories Infrastructure Department.

The truck fell through the ice road on March 5, 2016 at a crossing about four kilometres from shore on Great Bear Lake. No one was hurt and crews removed all the fuel from the tank before it could leak into the lake.

The Infrastructure Department spent nearly two years finalizing a report on what happened and why. It did not release the full report of the incident to CBC News, citing confidentiality issues, but did release a summary of the report.

Multiple factors at play 

At least three factors contributed to the truck falling through the ice: a crack in the ice road, variations in the thickness of the ice near the road, and the overweight truck.

"There's a number of factors involved in any structure of ice," said Kevin McLeod, the assistant deputy minister of asset management with the Infrastructure Department.

"It's not like concrete or wood, where everybody understands and fully has tested the properties and knows the strengths and weaknesses of it," he said. "Ice is natural, made by Mother Nature, and doesn't repeat itself the same way every time."   

The truck that fell through the ice on Great Bear Lake near Deline, N.W.T., was partially submerged for three days before crews were able to remove it. (GNWT)
The ice on the road was between 83 and 169 centimetres thick at the time of the crash. The operating ice safety guidelines from the Infrastructure Department suggest that ice would safely hold at least 40,000-kilogram loads.

The truck's weight ticket showed it was at least 4,000 kilograms heavier than the 40,000-kilogram limit for the road. Another 1,000 kilograms of snow and ice collected on the truck between the weigh station in Enterprise, N.W.T., and the crash site.

"I don't think that was reckless," McLeod said. "He was overweight, that's the letter of the law. But it wasn't wanton or reckless."

A representative of the haul truck's owner, Bassett Petroleum, accepts the report's findings but disputes how much heavier than 40,000-kilograms the truck actually was at the time. 

"The report said weight was a contributing factor among other factors," said Norm Bassett, the company's vice president and general manager. 

"It also illustrated there was a weigh ticket for the weight but I think the weight is pure estimation. I don't think it was that high," he said. 

Fuel trucks are loaded based on litres, not weight, he said. Changes in temperature and variances in fuel density could have contributed to changes in the truck's weight over the course of a trip, he added.  

"We follow the guidelines the government lays out for weights and units right to the letter," he said. "In the wintertime there are a number of contributing factors, snow could have gotten in the wheels, how much fuel is there in the tank that day, the density of the fuel." 

"Our policies and procedures are to follow the law," he said. 

The company continues sending haul trucks on the ice roads and maintains positive relationships with the Infrastructure Department, Bassett said. 

No charges, fines for company, driver

The report states the driver of the haul truck had 40 years experience, with no prior incidents reported on highways or ice roads. He was driving one kilometre-per-hour over the posted speed limit of 20 km/h.

Two workers wearing floatsuits and attached to safety lines prepare to open the valve on top of a haul tanker trapped in ice in 2016. About 30,000 litres of fuel was extracted from the tanker over four hours. (NWT Department of Transportation)
Neither the company that owned the truck, Bassett Petroleum, or the driver faced criminal charges or a fine from the Infrastructure Department.

"We determined with the response by the company, the response by the driver, the very collaborative effort they had, they jumped in, they helped, they solved things, a fine wasn't required," McLeod said.

"The effort that they put into retrieving the oil and the fuel, retrieving the truck and paying for all that, certainly they learned their lesson," he said. "They acted professionally and responsibly."   

5 recommendations listed 

The truck sat half-submerged in the water for about three days before crews removed 30,000 litres of fuel in its tank.

The report also listed five recommendations for the department going forward. They detailed the importance of taking correct field notes, assuring the quality of data collected, reinforcing ice safety construction guidelines and better education about vehicle weight limits on ice roads.

The department says it has adopted those recommendation and they are being put in place. 

About the Author

Alex Brockman

Alex Brockman is a CBC News reporter based in Yellowknife. He's worked in the North since 2016, covering territorial politics, Canada's military and the Sahtu region of the N.W.T. Follow him on twitter @BrockmanCBC. Have a story idea? Email him at alex.brockman@cbc.ca.

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