Car pulled from Salmon River after pre-Christmas crash

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Members of a dive team from Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office used a boat and wore drysuits to hook a cable to the submerged car in the still-cold Salmon River. Photos courtesy Troy Saffle IDEQ

A member of the dive team sits on the car’s roof and pulls on a line in preparation for hooking a cable onto the car. Photos courtesy Troy Saffle IDEQ

Earlier Friday morning, the car and river bottom were clearly visible in relatively clear water. Photos courtesy Troy Saffle IDEQ

Water levels turned turbid, then muddy and rose nearly half a foot during the extrication, but flood waters did not rise to dangerous levels. Deeper water may have helped float the rescue boat better. Photos courtesy Troy Saffle IDEQ

The car that’s been halfway submerged in the Salmon River since late last year has finally been pulled out and towed away.

Two towing services and officers from Custer County Sheriff’s Office and a boat-dive team from Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office combined to pull the car from its location just upriver from the BLM’s Cottonwood Campground last Friday, March 10, said Troy Saffle, water quality manager for Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s Idaho Falls office.

Sheldon and Angel Worth crashed into the Salmon River on December 21. Challis emergency responders rescued the couple from the icy river, but their 2005 Crown Victoria has remained in the river ever since, visible to traffic going up- and downriver.

The goal was to get the wreck out of the water after winter’s cold had passed but before high water, and that happened in the nick of time, Saffle told The Challis Messenger earlier this week.

Locals had warned that had the car been left in the river, it could have been washed downriver by spring floodwaters and become totally submerged in a deep hole near the boat ramp at Cottonwood Campground.

Three divers in hazardous material drysuits braved the still-cold water Friday morning and with help from a deputy in a Bonneville County SO boat were able to attach a cable to the car as water levels rose and turned muddy in the Salmon River, Saffle said.

It took deputies from the two sheriff’s offices and a towing company with a big tow truck from Idaho Falls from about 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday to winch the car to the riverbank and pull it up onto a pullout along Highway 93, Saffle said.

It took almost as long for Henderson Towing’s large semi-sized tow truck to pull the car up the steep bank as it did to winch it from the middle of the river. Once it was on the highway, Ed Soulek, local tow truck driver, towed the Crown Victoria upriver to Challis with his smaller rig.

“It was considered a good mutual aid success” between Custer and Bonneville sheriff’s offices, Saffle said.

The car was full of river rocks and had been totaled by the Worth’s insurance company after the crash, Saffle said, Since the former police patrol car is much the worse for wear after being submerged for more than two and a half months, it won’t be tooling down the highway again.

It’s uncertain what fluids, oil, gasoline, antifreeze, leaked out of the car while it was in the river, Saffle said, but officials saw no staining in the river or on the bottom where the car had come to rest. Saffle is not sure how much toxic fluid leaked out of the car into the river because officials didn’t check levels after the car was pulled out. Whatever leaked is long gone, he said.

Saffle has a claim number from the Worth’s insurance company and will file the claim for all costs associated with extracting the car from the river when he gets dollar figures from the towing companies and sheriff’s offices.

About a dozen vehicles stopped and people watched the extrication, Saffle said, but officials saw no steelhead fishermen on that stretch of river, either wading or floating down in driftboats.

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