Police are praising a group of truck drivers who helped pull people from a fiery crash on a northern Alberta highway Saturday morning.
“If no one was there, the outcome could be disastrous. They could (have) ended up deceased as well,” RCMP Const. Chris Clarke said.
“It’s instrumental to the survival of the drivers.”
The crash happened when a logging truck collided with a tractor trailer heading the opposite direction on Highway 881, near Lac La Biche. A pickup truck on the highway was then hit by logs knocked loose from the logging truck.
Alvin Brockman was in his truck, a few minutes behind the crash, when a coworker radioed to tell him the highway was blocked. Moments later, Brockman spotted black smoke.
“It was pretty much like a war zone. The logging truck logs are strewn all over the place. The pickup’s cab is just squished,” he said.
“Everybody bails out and starts doing what they can do.”
Waiting for help
Another coworker, Mohamad Moghrabi, was already on the scene. When he and the other drivers scrambled down into the ditch, they found a chaotic scene. The tractor trailer had been carrying fuel, and the snow around the crash was soaked with diesel.
“Everything is on fire around you ... And you’re wondering ‘ is this (diesel) going to catch on fire?’”
Brockman, who has training as a search-and-rescue worker, took charge of the injured.
The driver of the logging truck had pulled himself from the flaming wreck and, despite a broken leg,was dragging himself across the snow.
Brockman made his way around the twisted remains of the semis, walking across the snow to where the pickup truck had stopped. The woman driver was already dead.
“There wasn’t anything we could do for her. The cab was all twisted … we knew she was gone” he said.
Meanwhile, Moghrabi rushed to help the driver of the fuel truck, who was climbing out of his vehicle, bleeding heavily from a head wound.
“He was covered in blood, but he was coherent,” Moghrabi said.
“I bandaged him up .. I let him sit in the truck and calm down.”
Moghrabi said the driver told him his fuel truck lost control on the ice and was in danger of hitting the vehicle in front of him. The driver tried to swing onto the other side of the highway, but a snow plow’s spray obscured the oncoming logging truck. The two trucks collided.
Brockman said he was worried help might not arrive soon, given the remote location of the crash and the condition of the roads.
He and the other truckers tended to the drivers’ injuries. They wrapped the men in blankets.
Then they waited.
“You feel so helpless. You can’t do anything but just stand there, do nothing, and wait for everyone to show up.”
It was more than 45 minutes before RCMP reached the scene. STARS Air Ambulance arrived 15 minutes later. By that time, the trucks were engulfed in flames. Both survivors were taken to hospital, and one driver was later airlifted to Edmonton.
Police are still investigating the cause of the crash. Brockman said he's glad he was there to help. But the aftermath of the tragedy is something he will remember for a long time.
“That’s going to haunt me … it’s just something you try to get over,” he said.
The crash was the third fatal accident along the highway in three days.