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North Pole man dies when bulldozer sinks on Susitna Dam work

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Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013 4:26 pm | Updated: 2:26 pm, Tue Sep 3, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — A North Pole man died Friday when the bulldozer he was driving for contract work on the proposed Susitna Dam project broke through the ice on a pond east of Cantwell and sank.

The victim was identified as Donald Kiehl, 72, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers say the accident occurred Friday evening as a crew was transporting equipment and machinery to the Stephan Lake Lodge, 140 miles north of Anchorage.

The lodge has been contracted to support work on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, commonly referred to as the Susitna Dam. The crew associated with Friday’s incident had been contracted by the lodge to move equipment and machinery for the project, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.

The accident occurred on a pond between Gold Creek and Stephan Lake.

“At approximately 1730 hours, as the crew was crossing a low mountain, the D6 Caterpillar driven by Kiehl broke through the ice on an alpine lake and sank,” stated a trooper report posted Saturday.

Workers pulled Kiehl from the water and tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

The area is not accessible by road. A helicopter operating in the area transported troopers to the site.

Troopers say they are continuing to investigate but that no foul play is suspected. Kiehl’s body has been sent to the state medical examiner for autopsy.

The Susitna Dam project has been under consideration for decades but gained new life in recent years as energy prices have soared for many Alaskans, especially in Interior Alaska.

The Alaska Legislature approved $95 million this year to continue further studies on the project. An Alaska Energy Authority spokesman said about 180 people would be in the field doing studies this summer.

Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor.

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