Bridge inspectors saved from river currents

| 09 Jul 2015 | 04:44

By Anya Tikka
— Three inspectors stranded on a bridge tracker caught in strong Delaware River currents Tuesday emerged unharmed after a rescue.

Bridge trackers are vehicles that go into the water under bridges so that workers may conduct inspections. The disabled tracker was caught in the river on the afternoon of July 7, under bridge #2 at Sparrowbush, and turned on its side.

The inspectors were returning to New York from the Pennsylvania side of the river after completing the inspection. The inspectors waited on the overturned tracker for rescue teams to arrive.

The first fire departments on the scene were Port Jervis and Sparrowbush, who did the rescue. The Westfall and Lumberland fire departments also arrived to assist.

Although the water level is relatively low at this point of the river, the strong currents and fast flow were enough to flip the vehicle, said a representative of Hercon Group of Paradise, Pa., the company doing the bridge inspection. He declined to give his name. He was at the site early next morning, and said he was waiting for the team from his company to arrive to pull the tracker up.

“We’ll try using a winching and cabling operation,” he said.

By mid-afternoon, the operation was still ongoing. Teams from Hercon, the National Park Service, and local emergency crews patrolled the river while the work was being done.

Larry Neal, the acting chief ranger for the Upper Delaware River Recreation Area, explained the border where the Upper Delaware River ends is the #2 bridge.

“Technically, the tracker is outside our jurisdiction, so we’re assisting,” he explained.

He stayed on the shore directing and coordinating the operations.

Joe Hinkes, Operations Chief, and Bob Plumb from the Pennsylvania Fishing and Boating Commission got into a power boat. Lumberland firefighters employed an Airboat used in rescue operations.

The tracker lies in the river in the middle of major flow for boaters. National Park Service teams were telling boaters to stay away.

Area liveries and other river-dependent operations had been alerted, too, Neal said.

A crew of three in a boat caught a cable thrown from the bridge, which was attached to a crane on the bridge high above. They tied the cable to the overturned vehicle and returned ashore. It looked like the tracker was going to be pulled up any moment.

After back and forth attempts, the crew returned to the tracker and tied a second rope to its other end in hopes of balancing it.

Neal explained the plan was to turn the tracker back, and then drive it to safety. By 4 p.m. the tracker had been turned upright. The crews were trying to fix it, and to get it started, and planned to drive it out of the river by nightfall.