By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — It's not the best way to find a soft spot in the ice.
A City Parks Department snow plow was clearing off the "lighthouse island" lagoon Friday morning at Ottumwa Park. The idea was to plow a skating rink on the frozen pond.
Plow drivers said the ice covering the water was a half-foot thick. At least, for most of it.
"Over here, near the edge, it had been covered in snow, which insulated it, made it [weaker] than the rest of the ice," said Park Maintenance Supervisor Chris Cobler. "That's where he went through, and the plow got stuck ..."
At first, it was the front of the vehicle that was partially submerged. After a few minutes, the back end, which had been raised up, collapsed through the remaining ice. Now the front and rear wheels were partly underwater. The driver remained with the truck, which he kept running the whole time the heavy-duty Ford pickup was in the pond so he was able to keep warm, though he told his supervisor he had been concerned about ice water seeping through the door frame. That didn't happen, he said, even when about 15 minutes later, the truck dropped another few inches deeper. That's as deep as it goes, Cobler had determined.
Cobler had tried to pull the city parks truck out using his own vehicle, but that didn't work. Also, the embankment in front of the truck was one of the steepest in that lagoon. A very large tow truck tried to pull the plow out backwards via a gently sloped embankment. It wouldn't budge. By this time, the incident had drawn a crowd, some of whom made phone calls to family or media outlets, while others used their cell phones to take photos. The driver looked a bit uncomfortable being stuck and, perhaps, with all the attention, but he was uninjured.
Parks crew members helped hook the tow truck to the city vehicle using two cables. The tow truck also put down steadying arms from the back of the unit. One of the men volunteered to smash the ice chunks that were holding the plow in place. When other methods of breaking the gripping ice failed, they got a bigger hammer, smashing the solid ice using a sledge hammer. Then the tow truck began pulling. After some progress, there was a pause to switch the tow cables from above to underneath the plow. The tow truck pulled the city of Ottumwa plow and driver up the steep embankment. The driver said he was fine, and Cobler said the truck, outside of a bit of a dent underneath, was also fine.
The plow driver had most of the surface cleared. In fact, even during the rescue of the truck, three kids and a dog ran out on the ice less than 50 yards from the breakthrough.
Is that safe?
"Over there? Yes, that's fine," said Cobler. "Later this afternoon, we'll come back, rope off this part here, here and here."
As if to prove what a good idea that blockade would be, the playful dog ran over to the hole and, unable to stop, slid right into the ice cold water. People started shouting for the dog to come out, but while the dog was able to keep its head above water, it could make no progress paddling through the water so crowded with heavy ice chunks. Seconds later, the owner raced down the steep embankment and into the shallow but frigid water.
"C'mere you dumb dog," he said as the dog practically climbed up the owner's body into his arms.
One man helped the owner up the bank while another suggested getting the dog in one of the running trucks to warm up and dry off.
The owner said the dog was fine.
— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark