Water Response Team pulls car out of Wabash River

A car crash into the Wabash River is turning out to be a great learning opportunity for the Tippecanoe County Water Response Team.

Posted: Mar 22, 2018 7:07 PM
Updated: Mar 23, 2018 9:13 AM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — The Tippecanoe County Water Response Team successfully removed the car from the Wabash River Thursday afternoon.

It's been submerged since March 1, but the team decided it was best to wait until a scheduled training day to get it out of the water.

"The sun is kind of deceiving but the water will be very cold," said Lt. John "Woody" Ricks.

Hypothermia is just one of several safety concerns for the Tippecanoe County Water Response Team.

"Whenever we dive in moving water like this, it adds another degree of difficulty because moving water has a lot of force even though this isn't a raging river," said Ricks. 

The biggest concern is getting tangled under water.

"In a river like this, the bottom is always changing," said Ricks. "There's brush and debris and you just never know what you might find at the bottom of the river."

It's not very easy to see through the murky water, so the team uses technology to help. Once under water, divers have to feel around in order to know where they are going.

That's why the car crash into the river made for the perfect training opportunity on Thursday. 

"It worked out because the river had dropped to a level that is safe for us to dive in," said Ricks. 

The teen driver told police he fell asleep at the wheel. His car left the roadway and went into the river but it didn't stay in the same spot. The car floated a little more than 100 feet up-stream because the water was so high that day. First responders said when they got there, they found the teen driver standing on top of his car. It was just a few minutes from sinking.

"Pretty much when I threw the rope to him is when the vehicle finally submerged completely under the water," said Sgt. Matt Couch. "I was able to get him to the shore."

The driver survived the crash without injury. Remarkably, Dive Commander Couch was only a few miles away at the time.

"Pretty lucky on the proximity of where I responded from," said Couch. "He was able to get out. He was checked on scene and released by medics just from being cold."

The Water Response Team had some spectators as they worked to get the car out. A group from Ukraine has been studying first responders here in Tippecanoe County.

The Lafayette Rotary Club is hosting the group.

They've been visiting fire and police stations throughout their visit.

They were happy to watch the water response team in action today.

"Never, never I see like this situation in Ukraine and I'm surprised," said Julia Stuzhyk. 

"We'll start talking about it in Ukraine and I hope it's the first step to help us in the future to make some serious movement in firefighter reform," added Dmyero Dyblia.

Ukraine doesn't have fire and police stations out in the country. This group hopes to create volunteer stations with the knowledge gathered in Greater Lafayette.

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