By Dorothy Isted
Special to The Pioneer
Edgewater resident Matt Krebs recently had a close call on his sons birthday.
Describing it as the scariest thing I have ever seen, cousin Jamie Krebs watched in horror as Matt Krebs front end loader slid off a bridge, with Matt inside, into the violent waters of the flooded Cross River.
The cousins were part of a construction crew working on the roads and bridges that lead up to the Baymag Inc.-owned mine east of Invermere thats run by John Wolfe Construction Co. Ltd. Already that Thursday, on June 20th, they had watched as several loaded dump trucks crossed the bridge with large rocks to place in problem areas.
Two heavy equipment machines were being operated by boss Dave Wolfe and Matt Krebs. Matt, who has several years experience working as a heavy equipment operator, was picking up huge boulders and bringing them to be placed at the bridge to prevent deterioration. Unknown to any of the men, the roiling waters had washed out the stabilizing dirt packed into the steel beams at the bridge base.
If wed thought thered have been a problem, none of us would have gone near it, said Matt.
Watching Matt cross the bridge, Jamie, Brady Zubac and Nigel Thys heard the most horrifying noise, as the metal ripped and the bridge tilted. The front end loader slid to the left over the guardrail and into the water. The cab with Matt in it was under water. Dave was facing away and didnt see the incident. The three shocked men jumped to action when they saw Matts hand lift out of the water. Jamie and the others ran across the bridge, holding onto the guardrail on the right. He got Daves attention, who then moved his machine across the road and grabbed the tire of the loader with his machines bucket, pulling the whole machine towards the bank. This stopped it from moving into the current.
Once he had it and I knew it wouldnt go anywhere, I jumped onto the bucket and then the tire of Matts machine, then onto the headlight bar, Jamie said.
Just a few minutes had passed, minutes that seemed much longer to Matt. He said the cab instantly filled with water, submerging him.
Luckily I saw daylight, went for it, but was pinned in and couldnt get out. The outside passenger mirror was bent down, blocking the door from opening. I could open it just enough to jam my head through and breathe. The water was up to my chin. I reached my hand out. They didnt think I was okay until they saw my hand sticking up.
It was pretty scary. I thought I was going to die in there. I remember thinking, I dont want to die on (his son) Conners birthday, Matt recalled.
When he felt the machine being dragged toward shore, Matt realized help had arrived. He credits the whole crew and particularly Dave for reacting quickly and Jamie for jumping onto the machine and getting him out.
Jamie could only move the emergency door a few inches, enough to free Matts head, which was stuck inside between the door and a weight scale display screen.
I pried the door open far enough to get his head loose and he was able to move around in the cab, Jamie recounted. I pointed to him and said, Open the window, cause theres a window in the door. He opened it partway and it stuck. I grabbed it and pulled it all the way open.
Once out of his cab, Jamie had to help Matt reorient himself. His boots were so heavy with water and silt that he couldnt lift his feet and Jamie told him to kick them off. Then Jamie talked Matt into walking up slowly and crossing over the partly submerged machine back to the bucket of the other machine and up onto dry land. The four men then quickly got him out of his wet overalls and into the heated cab of Daves excavator where he could warm up.
There is no cell reception in the backcountry. Different crews in trucks stationed themselves every 25 kilometres to relay messages with two-way radios to get help and then let Daves crew know a helicopter was on the way. From the time of the incident to the arrival of the chopper was four hours.
Matt had a pretty good bump on his forehead, and was kept at the Invermere & District Hospital for two and a half hours before being released. His parents, Rochelle and Peter Krebs of Canal Flats, picked him up and took him home. Matts employers told him there was no rush for him to get back to work, but he didnt want to sit idly thinking about it, so he was back at work the following Monday.
There was one more bridge out there and I was the first to cross and it was a little nerve-racking. My knees were knocking but I made it.