Thomas Ridder, a diver with the Lane Country Sheriff Department's Search and Rescue team, heads for the bank of the McKenzie River after working to attach a tow line to a submerged vehicle, which crashed into the river in May during a fatal accident on Highway 126. Some feared the 2011 Kia could become a hazard if swept farther down river.
Hooking a big one
Perseverance rewards an effort to remove a car from the McKenzie
By Edward Russo
Appeared in print: Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, page B1
VIDA — It took several tries Friday, but a vehicle involved in a fatal accident more than four months ago was removed from the McKenzie River.
A Eugene towing company, with the volunteer help of river guides, McKenzie Fire & Rescue and scuba divers, used a winch to pull the Kia Sorento from the river.
It took more than five hours and repeated attempts by volunteers to attach a hook and cable to move the car about 75 feet to a point near the river bank.
“I’m glad we got it this far,” T&M Towing company owner Tim Baumgartner said late Friday afternoon. “This is fantastic.”
From that spot, the maroon Kia was pulled by a winch about 800 feet upriver, where it was taken out of the waterway and onto the property of residents Ben and Jackie Coleman.
McKenzie River resident Beverly Hadden, 60, died on May 12 after she apparently lost control of the 2011 Kia and it plunged into the river east of Vida, more than 20 miles east of Springfield.
McKenzie Fire & Rescue personnel found Hadden’s body, but her vehicle was swept downstream more than a mile.
The location of the car was unknown for 3Â½ weeks.
Baumgartner had wanted to remove the vehicle since it was found, but several factors contributed to the delayed salvage operation.
The Kia had come to a rest at the bottom of a deep channel with a swift-moving current in a section of river that is difficult to reach by land.
Also, some property owners with land closest to the sunken car were reluctant to let their land be used for the recovery operation.
But the Colemans recently gave Baumgartner permission to use their property.
Earlier this week, T&M cleared some brush from part of their land so he could put heavy machinery on their property for the salvage operation, including winch equipment and a tow truck.
Hadden’s auto insurance firm, Allstate, is going to be billed for the removal costs, Baumgartner said.
After months of effort, Baumgartner figured he had spent $17,000 on searching for the car and trying to get it out of the river. “And that (amount) was before today,” he said Friday.
The removal operation was supported by the McKenzie Clearwater Coalition and the McKenzie River Guides, two groups that wanted the car out of the river.
The groups and area residents feared the car eventually would be swept downriver, where it could become an obstruction and boating hazard.
The car “could be dangerous,” Jackie Coleman said. “People could get hurt or killed.”
Baumgartner resisted the idea of first using scuba divers to attach a hook and cable to the car so it could be pulled from the river. He and others involved in the operation were concerned about the divers having to deal with the forceful current.
Friday’s effort began just before 11 a.m. as river guide Steve Schaefers maneuvered his drift boat over the submerged Kia while volunteer Paul Schwarz tried to drop a large aluminum hook attached to a heavy rope on the car, located under about 8 feet of water.
It was challenging because the men had difficulty seeing the car in river. “The problem is, I can’t tell where to hook it,” Schwarz exclaimed at one point.
McKenzie Fire & Rescue had the only motorized boat in the operation. Initially, the craft, piloted by Assistant Fire Chief Dana Burwell, was used for safety purposes. But after several tries, the volunteers decided to take advantage of the rescue boat’s maneuverability. Schwarz got on the boat and worked with Jared Thomas of McKenzie Fire & Rescue.
Schwarz used a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a clear bottom to look under the water to locate the car. He gave instructions to Thomas, who repeatedly dropped a hook with a 35-pound lead anchor attached to counter the fast-moving current.
The men were able to attach the hook to the car several times. The winch-operated cable then would pull the Kia a few feet toward the shore, before the hook fell off.
By late afternoon, once volunteers thought the vehicle was in shallower, calmer water, scuba divers Thomas Ridder and Matt Conrad were asked to attach a heavy chain with a locking ring to the KIA’s rear axle.
The divers, in full scuba gear, entered the water with Burwell, Thomas and Schaefers watching from the rescue boat in the middle of the river.
The divers emerged after a few minutes.
“Did you hook it?” Doug Carlson of T&M Towing asked.
Both of the divers gave a thumbs up.
Later, Conrad said they were able to attach the chain to the axle with little difficulty, although they had to be careful. “It’s definitely a swift current,” Conrad said.
Within minutes after the divers attached the chain, the top of the badly damaged KIA broke the surface of the water.
It took T&M Towing a few more hours to get the car completely out of the river. By 7 p.m., the Kia was on the back of Baumgartner’s tow truck as it pulled into the Vida Cafe, where Baumgartner and his crew were going to have dinner. “I wasn’t going to leave it,” Baumgartner said.
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