Off-road recoveries almost always involve serious strategic planning—it’s not like you can pluck a Jeep off a high-line bike trail with one truck, a pull rope and some Coors Light. It gets even trickier when the vehicle is submerged in northern Alberta’s frigid Slave River. Sounds specific, for sure, and it’s because that really happened to a Chevy Silverado that had been stuck for nearly two months before getting yanked from the water.
Big Ice Services posted photos from the job to Facebook and gave a few details about the retrieval process near Fort Chipewyan. When The Drive reached out, head man Ray Rossington made clear just how risky the situation was. Really, it boiled down to moving heavy equipment near a rapid current and cutting into the already-shifty ice. As luck would have it, making ice is actually the company’s main bag.
“Our company specializes in the design of a variety of equipment to thicken the ice on lakes and rivers for commercial and industrial purposes,” Rossington noted. “We undertake contracts to build ice all across Canada.”
You’ve probably heard about the show Ice Road Truckers, so you’re at least tangentially familiar with what we’re talking about here. It’s like all the behind-the-scenes work you don’t see on TV.
“We will try to recover trucks and equipment when asked—we have removed many machines over the years—but it is not our core business,” he continued. “The big key to success on this recovery was the crew that volunteered to go. They have a lot of knowledge and work well in cold remote settings. “
As Rossington explained to me via email—central Canada’s a long way to drive—you could barely walk around the Chevy when they got to the site in late February. The truck was actually driven into the water around Jan. 1 of this year when the driver became disoriented, straying off the designated ice crossing. It remained there for a while, partially frozen, until the team of Brett Wildman, Dennis Lair, and Dale Buick could pay a visit.
The driver was lucky enough to escape onto good ice before plunging completely under, though the same couldn’t be said for the Silverado. The recovery team found the ice around it to be extremely unstable—not exactly what you want when it’s -36 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 feet of rushing water underneath you. As a fix, they used their ice-building pump to make the area more secure, though they weren’t out of the woods yet.
“The river has been unusually high and flowing very fast the last few years,” Rossington added. “This has made ice building very challenging.”
He mentioned that safety was still a priority for them as each worker was tied up to a cable line at all times. Had one of them fallen in, it was unlikely that they could’ve been pulled back above the surface, at least before cold-related injuries started to set in. That didn’t stop them from going to work with a pair of Stihl 462 chainsaws equipped with 42-inch bars.
The saws were great for cutting through the 40 inches of ice, but it took a lot more to actually pull the Chevy up. They used a skid-mounted gantry frame, slings, mechanical chain blocks, ice anchors, and cable blocks to do the job, all prepared ahead of time while considering the sheer weight of the truck. Oh, and all that ice.
It’s amazing to see how in-tact the Silverado was once they pulled it out of the water, though there’s no way you’d want to drive it now. Lord knows what the interior looks like, and the frame is obviously folded.
From left to right: Brett Wildman, Dennis Lair, and Dale Buick from Big Ice Services
At long last, the half-ton was rescued on Feb. 26. Some commenters asked why it was even worth saving, but you can’t just leave a truck to sink in protected waterways. In case you hadn’t heard, the law gets pretty upset about that kind of thing.
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