Cumberland Times-News

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March 20, 2013

Rig driver rescued from icy river

OLDTOWN — Ryan Hill was easing into another workday Wednesday at Koppers Inc., in Green Spring, W.Va., when Cresaptown Fire Chief Jeremy Athey alerted him to an accident in the nearby Potomac River.

A lieutenant in the Cresaptown Volunteer Fire Department, Hill and a co-worker raced to the scene — located only a mile from the work site.

A tractor-trailer loaded with railroad ties that had just left Koppers had somehow traveled off the toll bridge into the river just before 9 a.m.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the water flow at that time was estimated at about 3,000 cubic feet per second at the North Branch of the Potomac River.

The driver of the toppled rig was nowhere in sight — nor were any first-response units that were alerted minutes earlier to the life threatening emergency.

“I saw the tandem axle sticking up out of the water and at the bridge you could see the whole rig half-submerged.

“I believed the driver was in the vehicle and I was on the bridge about 30 seconds when I could hear a tapping noise,” said Hill.

“I later found out the driver was attempting to break the window on the passenger side of the cab with a fire extinguisher.

“Since no one had arrived yet, I made a plan and decided to try to reach him. I knew he was in the cab. The back end of the rig was close to the bridge and I was able to scale my way across and access the trailer.

“The door was partially stuck. The driver only had a small pocket of air left before he was going to be fully submerged. I was also able to get the door open and pull him out,” said Hill.

“He was cold. I’m sure the water was only about 40 degrees. He didn't speak English but he kept saying he wanted water.

“We stayed on top of the cab and the Oldtown Fire Department arrived a few minutes later. They threw us a rope and a bag of blankets.

“I stayed there with him until the Bowling Green Swift Water Rescue Team got to us. We got in their boat and went back to the shore. Springfield fire department was on the West Virginia side.

“I got in the back of the ambulance for a few minutes to warm up while they put the driver on a backboard for transport to the hospital,” said Hill.

Hill returned to his nearby office and changed clothes. Word of the rescue from the icy North Branch Potomac quickly spread through the Oldtown, Green Spring and Springfield communities.

“This is a small town down here. This kind of stuff is pretty big news,” said Hill, who has worked for Koppers Inc., at Green Spring  as a safety, health and environmental coordinator since 2010.

Hill began his volunteer fire and rescue services with the Fallston Volunteer Fire Department in Harford County in 2001. He relocated to Cumberland and later to Cresaptown after accepting employment with Koppers in 2010. That was also the year he joined the Cresaptown Volunteer Fire Department.

Hill also said that Koppers employs contractual drivers to deliver their products. Those drivers utilize the Oldtown toll bridge at their own discretion.

The accident is being investigated by West Virginia State Police at Romney.

Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at jlalderton@times-news.com.

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