Fate of sunken excavator in limbo

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The fate of a 22-ton excavator that slipped off its rig mats into a soup of snow, mud and ice last week remains in limbo.

The excavator became mired in a slushy bog at Lake Sevena in Soldotna on Dec. 9. As of Tuesday, only the roof of the cab and part of the hydraulic arm remained visible.

The series of mishaps that led to the near submersion of the excavator began Dec. 8, with two state law enforcement vehicles and a bulldozer first getting stuck in the bog.

According to Lt. Steve Bear of the Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement, a division of the Alaska State Troopers, a bureau patrol truck got stuck in wet snow while driving out to check on a couple of ice fishers on Sevena Lake also known as Soldotna Lake.

"We weren't too concerned until we got two stuck," Bear said.

A second bureau truck, dispatched to rescue the first, bogged down while turning to get into tow position.

After a third trooper truck failed to pull either vehicle free with tow chains, the officers called the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

DOT brought in a bulldozer.

The dozer, rented from a local company, pulled one truck out of the muck and onto hard ground. With the second truck in tow, the 10-ton bulldozer broke through the ice into a sump hole, where it spent the night.

The next morning, DOT rented an excavator. The excavator, which crawls on tracks like a bulldozer, slipped off the mats designed to support it when operating on soft ground as it was being positioned to rescue the pick up and bulldozer.

A second excavator, operated by a private contractor, was able to liberate the bulldozer and truck.

The excavator, however, resisted.

Attempts to free it only sank the heavy equipment deeper.

"It was like quicksand out there the ground rippled like water," Bear said.

The excavator has remained stuck in the bog at Lake Sevena since officials halted extraction efforts Dec. 9.

DOT Central Region Mainten-ance and Operations Chief Chris Kepler is investigating the incident to determine how to proceed.

Gary Folley, environmental specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, checked the site Tuesday afternoon for evidence of fuel or oil contamination.

"There's no evidence of any pollution," he said.

If diesel was leaking, he said a rainbow sheen would be evident.

Folley called the threat of environmental contamination minor, since the diesel is "capped and contained" in a fuel tank.

"Of course, the best way to abate any threat is to remove it," he said.

As for the ice fishers, Bear said they had licenses.

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