When master sergeants David Barber and Morgan Cabaniss traveled to Alaska’s far north to join friends on a caribou hunt, the last thing they expected to do was mount an extremely risky rescue mission. But when an unfortunate trucker found himself dangling at the edge of a 600-foot drop due to treacherous weather, the airmen were quick to respond.
According to Senior Master Sergeant Mike Hammond of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where Barber and Cabaniss were stationed, the incident happened on Dalton Highway on November 2. Roughly a hundred miles north of the Artic Circle, the airmen were driving on a stretch of the highway known as the “Haul Road” in freezing temperatures. The -7°F chill made the road slick and dangerous to even veteran truckers, like the one driving in front of Barber and Cabaniss.
“We were going over Atigun Pass when we came up on a trucker. He was going really slowly, and I could see his tail lights reflecting off the road behind him,” Cabaniss said. “I had just told Dave that the road must be really slick, when the truck started to jackknife. We could see his tail lights and his headlights both pointing back at us!”
A sudden turn in the road caused the truck to jackknife into a snowbank just on the edge of a 600-foot drop. Barber said the driver was fortunate the snow bank was there.
“That snow was the only thing between him and the drop,” he said.
The airmen stopped their vehicle as soon as they saw the accident and Cabaniss wasted no time in running towards the overturned vehicle.
“I just did it; just went,” Cabaniss said. “I didn’t really think about it. And when I got to the edge of the road and looked down the embankment, I saw the door of the cab propped open. The trucker was wedged between the door and the side of his vehicle.”
Cabaniss and Barber knew it would not take much for the truck to slide the further few feet over the edge of the drop, and they needed to act quickly. Cabaniss waded through waist-high snow to get to the truck’s cab and help the dazed driver out. Every movement near the truck increased the odds that the vehicle would being moving downwards, but Cabaniss managed to lead the trucker out of the snow bank and back to safety.
“I told him the truck might go, and that got him moving a bit,” Cabaniss said. “So I helped pull him back through that deep snow and then we got him back to our vehicle to warm up. We put a jacket on him and gave him water.”
The truck driver was eventually picked up by a Department of Transportation official. Save for the shock of a near-death experience, he suffered no major injuries.
Cabaniss and Barber are being commended for their quick thinking and bold rescue. Due to the low temperature and precarious position of the truck, it is likely they saved the driver’s life. Cabaniss said he was familiar with the region, and whether one was hunting or otherwise, caution could mean the difference between life or death.
“We found out this guy was one of the most experienced truckers operating in the area,” Cabaniss said. “That fact, plus the fact that besides us, no one else would have come by for 45 minutes or more, really made me realize that in Alaska, you have to always be ready to take care of yourself.”
Image courtesy U.S. Air Force