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REPORTING · 14th February 2011
Merv Ritchie
John Symes is lucky to be alive today after a split second miss with a massive block of ice, which fell off the cliffs at the same location where a Greyhound Bus was not so lucky last week. Witnesses who arrived at the scene after the ice fell estimate the block to be anywhere between 500 pounds and a ton. Symes stated it took the plow truck, which arrived later, a few attempts just to get it to move. The ice was blocking an entire lane of traffic.

At close to 11:00 pm Saturday evening, as Symes was driving past the rock cliffs the ice dropped off the granite face and hit the very back of his truck at the trailer hitch. He pulled over, as he says to first catch his breath, and then determined that he needed to park with his hazard lights flashing to warn other drivers. He stated he knew a plow truck ahead of him would be turning around at the end of the contract zone, so he waited for it to return.

Steve Cassie arrived, on his return to Terrace from Rupert, and found Symes slowing the traffic and clearing the ice, what pieces he could move, from the road and throwing them to the ditch. Cassie estimated the largest piece to be 5 feet long, 4 feet wide and 2 feet thick. Symes reported as he was slowing traffic and clearing some of the ice he heard more ice fall behind him so he decided to move away farther from the danger and just wait for the plow truck.

Joe Skarra was the road foreman who maintained this section of the highway more than twenty years back when the Highways department was still run by the Government. He was the foreman at the Salvus camp, now the Kasiks Lodge and retired in 1988. After the Greyhound Bus accident last week we called him at his home to discuss the history of the ice at this location. He reported to us that after he retired he was called back to Prince Rupert to testify on behalf of a woman who was suing the Government over the wrongful death of her husband. She and her husband were on their way to Vancouver to pick up their baby who had been sick in the hospital. A block of ice fell and killed him as they were driving by. The Government lost as this hazard was a well known problem. Skarra had dealt with it on a regular and ongoing basis. He recalls the wrongful death claim as being for $3 million.

Skarra stated he began attempting to deal with the ice problem on his own with a 303 British Enfield. “It scared me a bit as it was too powerful and the shot would ricochet, so I got the government to buy a long barrel shotgun.” He discussed the problem back then with their avalanche technician, Mike Zilich (he wasn’t sure of the spelling). Mike, he said, died years later in an avalanche near Meziadin.

Skarra went on to describe the different shot he would use. “The shotgun pellets were too weak, they would mushroom out too much. I went to the Co-op and bought shot with a single round pellet.”

This, he said, worked well and it would take two or three shots to dislodge the ice. “The ice problem was there all the time.”

Skarra remembers the “Carwash Rock” area as being the worst but acknowledged the road has changed a lot since he was working in the area. “The road was much narrower then and there were flashing lights warning the drivers.”
In reply.
Comment by James Ippel on 14th February 2011
I in no way want to question the obervations of Mr Skarra, but to the best of my knowledge, the individual who lost his life due to falling ice happened at Carwash Rock. (Ed note: That is correct, and was his recollection)
Over the years this area of hiway received a lot of attention with rock scaling, the installation of screen to stop falling rock but falling ice always remained a challenge. Because so much attention was focused on Carwash Rock, the overhang immediately west of Exchamsiks was probably classified as secondary because no major accident had occurred there.
Now we have a second serious problem, and with the continuing freeze/thaw cycles that are prevelant in this area, there is not an easy fix.
It is easy for Mr Grant to say it is time to blast, and I think this has already been considered. What I have been told is that due to the porous nature of the rock, blasting would be very dangerous, never knowing how much rock will actually come down.
Blasting was utilized at Carwash in the past, and the blasts were very very small for this reason.
Hopefully the maintenance people will be able to stay abreast of the problem, and there is no loss of life.

Comment by Bryan Notheisz on 14th February 2011
Slightly off topic, but I drove to Kitimat last night (the 13th) and although the highway condition was awful I saw 3 plow trucks and a grader working. It was snowing so hard the crews simply couldn't keep up.
Thank you to the crews who are out there in the worst weather keeping our roads up. To often all we hear is complaints.
MLA take notice
Comment by Brian Grant on 14th February 2011
Austin,CULLEN...This part of highway in the Winter, is dangerous. When will The Government decided to remove this part of side roads ,...before some dies?? If this was Vancouver or Victoria highways it would be delt with ASAP...Time to blast !