By Andi Bourne

Vehicle removed from Salmon Lake


February 20, 2020

Kristina Shields

Clearwater Towing's Ben Shields and Scott Bakker cut 10 X 10 blocks of ice near the shore of Salmon Lake to expose the car. Then they used planks as a ramp to winch the submerged vehicle up onto the ice.

SEELEY LAKE – After a vehicle went through the ice on Salmon Lake, Feb. 10 and emergency responders were released, Clearwater Towing of Seeley Lake worked late into the night to recover the vehicle. Clearwater Towing Manager Ben Shields said over the years, they have pulled a lot of things off and out of the lakes in the valley. However, they have never pulled a vehicle out that was that far from shore.

Before Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue was released from the scene, they spotted Shields as he stood on two inches of ice near the edge of the entry hole. Shields was wearing a personal flotation device and was connected to a rope in case he broke through. He said he could see the vehicle upside down in the water. He told the Missoula County Sheriff's Office diver where to connect the tow hook to the vehicle.

Once it was hooked, Clearwater Towing connected 338 feet of winch line and chains. Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue was released since they do not rescue gear or property. Clearwater Towing Owner Bob Skiles, technicians and tow truck operators Ryan Braulik and Scott Bakker and Shields began the three-hour long process of pulling the vehicle out of the lake.


Shields said typically when a vehicle goes through the ice in the winter, it's due to a wreck. When a vehicle comes from the road and goes onto the ice, it is typically somewhat exposed because the ice keeps the vehicle from completely sinking. However, in this case the vehicle was completely submerged in around 12 feet of water.

Shields and Bakker cut a path in the ice for the winch cable using Stihl chainsaws as they slowly pulled the vehicle under the ice.

They then cut 10 X 10 foot blocks of ice out near shore to pull the vehicle through. Shields said the ice shifted multiple times while they were cutting, dropping several inches under them. While it was unsafe to walk on the ice out by the inlet, the ice close to shore was 12 inches thick.

Once the vehicle was near the shore, Shields and Bakker placed planks in the water to act as a ramp. They winched the vehicle up and onto the ice. Once the car was on the ice, Shields said it was easy pulling.

Clearwater Towing used two boom trucks to rest the vehicle on the guardrail. They backed their flatbed tow truck up to the guardrail to assist getting the vehicle over the guardrail without damaging the guardrail.

"If we had waited until morning the biggest issue would have been traffic on the road," said Shields. "The second issue would have been that it was frozen again."

Even though Shields had never removed a submerged vehicle from a frozen lake before, he has been towing and recovering vehicles for many years.

"I had a good teacher, Bob Skiles," said Shields. "You take what you learn and apply your own perspective and roll with the punches. Most recoveries for the most part are easy - kinda repetitive. However, the tragic loss of life is very sad. The recovery is challenging and tests your skills under pressure and how you apply them."


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