A Crowley Fuels truck got stuck in the snow on the Richardson Highway on Wednesday, following an avalanche that occurred at roughly 11 a.m. near Mile 38. While neither of the two truckers riding the rig were hurt, the truck was stuck in the Thompson Pass are for hours — even after a plow crew came to clear the road.
According to Alaska Department of Transportation Northern Region Spokesperson Caitlin Frye, no one got caught in the avalanche, but two trucks were approaching the area at the time — one heading north and the other heading south.
“There was one that was headed north and it was able to stop before the slide. There was a southbound one and that’s the one you saw in the picture — those truckers aren’t able to stop quickly,” Frye said. “The avalanche came down and the truck wasn’t able to stop and it sort of drove up onto the slide.”
The truck, which was enroute to Valdez, was subsequently suspended up in the snow, several feet off the ground. While the truck suffered some exterior damage, no fuel was spilled.
Frye said that a DOT crew was dispatched shortly after. The first thing the crew does is check to ensure the safety of anyone on the affected roads. Then the crew assesses the conditions of the area to make sure it’s safe for them to start clearing the debris. This begins with a process known as avalanche mitigation, which involves firing projectiles into the shoot area to see if any further slides are triggered.
“They shot the side of the hill and not much snow came down so they decided it was safe for them to start moving the snow,” Frye said, adding that Thompson Pass is an area prone to avalanches. “We have an avalanche technician who works out of our Thompson Pass station. It’s a unique place for sure. They get more snow regularly than any of our other stations. The kinds of equipment and vehicles that we have out there are different, so they can go out and plow in white-out conditions.”
Frye said that the crew had cleared the road enough to open one lane by 9 p.m., but the Crowley truck took longer to tow from the highway due to the amount of snow packed around it. By 11 p.m. the truck had been removed and both lanes were clear.
“Our maintenance operators are often first responders. When the weather is bad or things like avalanches happen, they are a really important resource on our roads and they take their jobs really seriously. They did exactly what they were supposed to do and worked into the night,” Frye said. “They did an incredible job and I’m really in awe of their dedication to the public service works that they perform. They’re really incredible people.”
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.