17 June, 2012

My First Wreck Recovery

      So my department head, Tony, is off for a few days of well-deserved vacation.   A perfect time for my first rescue/wrecked vehicle recovery--not the first time I've been involved in a rescue, but the first one that was all my show that involved a wreck recovery.

      Yeah, I'll tell you all about it.  Didn't bring a camera though--it was dark and rainy--wait, I'm getting ahead of myself...

       On my way home from work on Friday, The director of Wycliffe's PNG Branch, (think my boss's boss's boss), flagged me down, aske me who was on call the weekend, (it was me) and said "I don't have much info yet, but a member of our community has been in an accident in a rental vehicle between here and Goroka.  The vehicle is not drivable, can you go recover it?"  Naturally I said yes.

       I didn't want to go alone, so I got ahold of my co-worker Evan and we picked up the AutoShop rescue truck and the crash trailer and headed out.  The wrecked truck was at a church, not far from the Trumpet School.  I knew where the Trumpet School was, but I wasn't sure where the church was.    Anyway, we found the wreck site without too much trouble, (there was still broken glass on the road), but there was no way to get in to the churchyard without turning around, so we went on down the road a little ways to the Trumpet School, where I pulled in to turn around--the Trumpet School has a nice big, flat yard with good access from the road.  We pulled in, turned, and got stuck.  It was hard at one end, where we pulled in, but got progressively softer and muddier as we turned.

        Well, we weren't going to get the truck out with the massive crash  trailer on it, so we unhooked it, got the truck out, (that was a chore), then had to figure out how to get the trailer out.  We had a small electric winch in the truck, thankfully Tony had had the foresight some time ago to put recievers for it at each end of the truck, so we connected it to the truck and ran the hook out to the trailer, but when we hit the switch, (the switch is a lousy piece of junk), it just pulled the truck across the slippery ground to the trailer.  So then we chained the truck to a tree, ran the winch cable out to the trailer and dragged it back.  In the process we bent the extendable wheel under the tongue of the trailer, (that wheel didn't fit properly and was a headache to use, but bending it only made things worse).

       Okay, so now it was REALLY dark out.  We got the truck up near the road, (got the front wheels onto something hard), and then used the winch again to pull the trailer to the truck.  Without the extendable wheel, we couldn't lift the tongue up to the hitch.  We used the winch, but, (wouldn't you know it?) the winch reciever is placed so that when the winch is installed, it blocks the way to the trailer ball, so we could get to within an inch or two of our goal and no farther.  The tongue weight of the trailer is too much for Evan and I to lift, so we spent a hour or two trying to figure out various way to lift it.  We got the jack out of the truck, but it was junk and would only go up about 1.5 inches.  After a few minutes of use, the controller for the winch died, it was useless, it would only feed the cable out, but not back in, so we unplugged it from the winch body and just used an old piece fo scrap steel we found in the back of the truck to cross over the contacts on the winch itself so that we could control it--of course, as it got more and more wet, we were getting worse and worse shocks while trying to use the winch.  Fun times.   "Okay, let the winch out!"  "Okay--BZZT! OW!" whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Bzzt *sparks* bzzzt "Ow!"

      Alright, so it's dark, we've only got one flashlight and the batteries in it are going.  It's now also pouring down rain.  We spent a long time trying to find a way to get that trailer on to that ball.  Finally about 6 PNG guys stopped by, (not all entirely sober, but at least they were reasonably friendly), and started offering advice and suggestions, without us even having to ask.   Before we left Ukarumpa, the director had given me his cell phone, (I don't own one because I very rarely have a need for one here) so every 10 minutes or so the time we were stuck people kept calling us on the phone and asking "where are you?  Are you still stuck?  What are you doing?  Are you lost?  Can't you get somebdoy to help you?"  Always at bad times and with not much useful to offer.   Eventually we removed the winch and got these guys to help us lift the trailer and drop it on to the ball.  (I should also point out that the truck was on a little hill, (the only place where there was reliable traction), and the trailer was downhill from it, which all added to the mess.)  The PNG guys were friendly enough, they remembered me from another wrecked vehicle recovery I had been involved in in that area a few years ago.  I guess I made an impression on them during that recovery--I was on crowd control that day, that was what they all remembered, though it seemed to be a happy memory for them.

        Okay, so we've finally got the trailer back on the truck, handed out K20 to the guys  (about $10 US) and told them to scale it out amongst themselves.  Everybody left happy, though I was a bit ticked off to find that some one had stolen our leaky bottle jack out of the back of the truck while we were working on the trailer.  So we drove back to the church and pulled in behind the wrecked car.   Thankfully the terrain there offered a natural way to get the truck on to the trailer.  I say "thankfully" because we had forgotten the ramps for the trailer.  Unfortunately, the wreck had one front wheel that wouldn't roll, and the steering didn't work.  We tried to get it onto the trailer, but after a couple of failed attempts, the steering tie rod popped off and we found that the threaded end of the rod was more or less shattered, so there was no way to really patch it up.  When we took a good look at the wheel that wouldn't roll, we discovered that the reason why it wouldn't roll was because the wheel was bent--we realised that if we could put the spare tire on, we'd be able to roll it.  The spare tire had a locking lug that needed a key to open it, so we got the key from the driver and then discovered that while it was definitely a rental vehicle, it was an AVIS rental, (! I didn't even know that AVIS was active in this part of PNG!) not one of our fleet vehicles.  At that point I started asking "is this really our job?  Shouldn't AVIS be doing this?"  Anyway, we the key turned out to be the wrong one for getting the spare off and there was no other key, so we decided to leave the vehicle, (it was now after 10:00 pm) and come back Monday  (we had another work-related road trip already planned for Saturday)  with a spare wheel and whatever parts we needed to get the steering going again, (it might even have been drivable after that).  So we took the two passengers who were still there--some of the people who had been in the wreck had already caught a ride back to Ukarumpa in a Public Motor Vehicle), and went back to Ukarumpa.

        It was quarter to 11 when we got to the front gate, which had already been locked for the night.  We honked the horn for a little while until a guard showed up and let us in, (about 10 minutes or so), 

        After I dropped off the guy who had been in the wreck, Evan, and the AS rescue truck, I got in the Land Rover to drive home.  On my way home, I saw the director crossing the road in front of me in his van, so I followed him home, returned his phone and told him that while the wrecked car was indeed a rental car, it wasn't one of OUR rentals.  He told me that we probably shouldn't be recovering it, then.  He said he'd make some calls in the morning and see if AVIS couldn't recover it instead, which I have now learned that they ended up doing yesterday afternoon.

        So!  5 hours, at least 3 of them spent getting the truck and trailer out of the mud, and in the end, pretty much nothing to show for it, except giving 2 guys a ride back to Ukarumpa!  Pretty much par for the course...  I was glad Evan was there, I was all set to abandon the trailer and come back for it on Monday, (which would have been a mistake--the wheels on the trailer also happen to fit a lot of vehicles in this area, so they might have been a little bit too much temptation for somebody), so I'm really glad that we didn't.  I would have done if Evan hadn't been there.

        The next day Evan came along again and we went to Nadzab (the airport near Lae), and picked up the shop apprentices, absolutely no drama.  Though yeah, whoever said the road was really bad was right!  Especially between K92 and Yonki.   Kassam Pass is down to just one lane in several places, though in one area that has been just one lane for a long time has been repaired, so that's a plus.

         So that's the story of our "rescue"...