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Crane removes truck, diesel tanker from canyon

By Lorraine Cavener
Twin Falls Times-News

HANSEN – The crew from Twin Falls Crane Services was a bit nervous Thursday (Feb. 5).

Levi Thorp, Nathan Christensen and Dustin Brower had been involved in this type of work a number of times before, but it wasn't every day that they were lowered in a metal basket quite this far – 370 feet to the bottom of the Snake River Canyon.

In low-30-degree temperatures, they sipped ice-cold cola just before making the descent – lowered by Jim Thorp, owner of the crane services company and operator of the 80-ton crane. Their task was to begin cleaning up the wreckage from a tractor-trailer that plunged into the canyon at the Hansen Bridge Jan 30.

The body of Oregon trucker Robert Allen MacDougall, 37, owner of Portland-based MacDougall Trucking, was recovered the day of the wreck. Officials have been investigating whether he was the victim of a freak weather system that enveloped Magic Valley for a brief period Jan. 30, when wind gusts might have reached 60 mph. Twin Falls County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Nancy Howell said she had no information about the investigation Thursday afternoon.

The Twin Falls Crane Services crew hauled about 200 yards of crushed rock to the edge of the canyon to build the pad the crane was sitting on Thursday, Jim Thorp said. The crushed rock was laid over the top of the south approach to the old suspension bridge, which was built in 1918 and was used until the current Hansen Bridge was built.

Supports for the crane were dug down into the pavement of the old road that crossed the suspension bridge.

Diesel from the truck's fuel tank has to be mopped up before the truck can be pulled out of the canyon, said Twin Falls County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Burgess, who was on hand to keep traffic flowing across the bridge while the crew worked.

"Undoubtedly there will be more drippage as they bring the truck up," Burgess said. "But it is not enough to be a serious environmental concern."

The Environmental Protection Agency declared the scene a "level one," which means a mop-up operation should be done at the time the truck is pulled up, Burgess said.

Burgess said he planned to inspect the wreckage when it comes to the top.

Any records in the truck that give clues about the trucker's destination, where he was from or other information could be used to complete the investigation, Burgess said.

Burgess was down in the canyon when the body was recovered.

"It was a pretty horrendous sight at the bottom to see the wreckage and the victim," he said.

Another crane, this one 100 tons, will be used to lift the truck from the canyon, Thorp said.

That was expected to take place Friday.

Before lowering the mop-up crew, Thorp lowered the basket to test for distance and find a spot that was safe to land.

The three men who were lowered in the basket had the task of placing absorbent pads provided by the EPA along the edges of the Snake River near the truck. The pads attract the diesel fuel that spilled from the truck, said Paul Seaman of the crane services company.

From the bridge, where Seaman could see both the men in the basket and the crane operator, he communicated by two-way radio as the group was lowered into the canyon. Once in the canyon, the group was directed by Seaman where to place the absorbent pads.

As the crew worked, personnel from the Idaho Transportation Department were on hand to oversee operations.

"It's on our property, and we have to make sure we don't do any more damage than we need to do during the recovery," said Devin Rigby, an engineer with the Transportation Department's regional office in Shoshone. "We need to make sure proper safety precautions are taken with regard to the traffic."

Rigby said he was confident in Twin Falls Crane Services. He has seen the company do the same type of work before.

"They pulled a car out of the canyon a couple of years ago," Rigby said.

"We have done a lot of canyon recovery," Thorp said.

After the more than 12,000-pound tractor and more than 12,000-pound trailer are recovered, the crane services company will spend several more days recovering pieces of wreckage, he said.

"There is stuff scattered for half a mile," Thorp said. "That thing virtually exploded when it hit the rocks."

Thorp said he wouldn't know what the total bill for the job would come to until the crew was finished. But Burgess said the cost would be a lot less than using a helicopter.

"The cost of a helicopter is phenomenal over a crane," he said.