Avalanches plague 'Ice Road Truckers' highway

FAIRBANKS — A stretch of road made famous by television’s “Ice Road Truckers” is proving to be as dangerous as advertised.

The so-called Haul Road has seen an unusual number of avalanches this spring, most of them composed of slush rather than snow, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported, and strong enough that one witness called them “a cross between a tsunami and an avalanche.”

The road is officially part of the 4,739-foot Atigun Pass, the highest point on the Alaska road system, on the Dalton Highway. The avalanches were among more than a half dozen in a five-mile stretch on the south side of the pass.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said six to eight avalanches have closed the road at different times during the past week before they were cleared by state workers.

“This is highly unusual,” Bailey said. “They’re not traditional snow avalanches.”

The avalanches are usually in winter, not spring. And now, truckers along the route are getting hit.

At least two tractor-trailers were hit by different avalanches in the area in the past week, though no one was injured in either case and both trucks remained upright.

“There’s always avalanches up there, but this is pretty unusual this spring,” said Lane Keator, manager at trucking company Carlile Transportation Systems. “It was cold up there up until last week and this week it warmed up quite a bit and it’s causing some pretty nasty conditions.”

A Carlile truck was turned sideways by an avalanche last week as it drove south down the pass, Keator said.

“It turned the truck sideways in the road and the trailer ended up on top of the guardrail in the snow,” he said. “The main part of the avalanche hit right behind the truck on the trailer. (The driver) was pretty fortunate.”

The driver had no idea the avalanche was coming until it hit, Keator said.

“I don’t think he even heard it,” he said.

On Wednesday, a tractor-trailer from Alaska West Express was swept off the road and across the West Fork of the Chandalar River before it came to a stop on the other side of the river. The driver was able to walk about a mile to a DOT maintenance station and get the truck pulled out.

Ed Davis, of Fairbanks, was the first person on the scene after the truck was swept off the road.

“I got there and there was a bunch of icy debris in the road,” he said. “It was two or three feet deep in the deepest parts.”

___

Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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