BYRON – Rescuers worked for more than four hours Thursday to free a truck driver from the mangled wreckage of his cab after the rig tumbled down a ravine near Coos Canyon.

James Peterson, 59, of Hancock Street in Rumford, was airlifted to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where a nursing supervisor said Thursday evening that he was in stable condition.

“He’s a very lucky man,” Med-Care Ambulance paramedic Berta Broomhall said. “His injuries were not life-threatening.”

“He’s lucky to be alive,” Oxford County Deputy Josh Wyman said at the scene of the wreck.

Broomhall, another Med-Care crew member, and LifeFlight helicopter paramedics tended to the pinned Peterson for 4 hours while Rumford, Mexico, Byron and Roxbury firefighters worked to free him.

According to Chris Jannace of Peterson’s logging company, Red Oak Forestry of Rumford, the accident happened at about 12:10 p.m. on a curve on Dingle Hill Road about a mile east of Coos Canyon and Route 17.

Peterson, who’s a former Rumford selectman, had picked up an 80,000-pound load of spruce and fir logs 10 miles east of Coos Canyon on Stockbridge Road. He was driving the pulp rig down the narrow, winding road that was covered with ice, slush and snow to Route 17. From there, Jannace would drive the load to the Madison paper mill.

As the truck descended, Peterson lost control while rounding a curve, Oxford County Deputy Mike Halacy said.

The truck veered off the road, sheering off trees, and rolled 50 feet into the ravine. It flipped onto its side in a brook and slid into a maple and poplar trees, one of which punched up through the cab.

A passing motorist discovered the wreckage, went to the Byron town office and called 911.

Peterson was pinned by the cab – which folded in on him – the steering wheel, seat, trees, branches and deep snow that packed into the cab, firefighters said.

“The roof of the cab was four feet under snow and he was jammed into the seat with a tree between his legs,” Mexico fire Chief Gary Wentzell said.

“One foot was sticking through the back of the floorboard of the cab and was caught in tree branches under the snow and outside of the cab,” added Med-Care Ambulance Director Dean Milligan.

Rescuers had to remove tree branches, trees and snow and pry the door off while attempting to reach Peterson.

“He was wedged in there really well,” Broomhall said.

Peterson was conscious and alert, talking to rescuers throughout the ordeal.

“We had to work our way down because there was no room to get in there,” Rumford fire Lt. Chris Bryant said.

Rescuers had to dig through snow between and underneath the cab and fuel tanks to cut his boot off and free his stuck foot.

A logging skidder and cable from a winch on the Rumford fire utility truck were used to inch back wreckage from the cab and try to prevent the rig from sliding farther down the brook channel.

“We even had to deal with a 10-inch (diameter) tree right in there while 12-inch (diameter) trees that were broken off were hanging over us,” Bryant said.

Shortly after the 12:28 p.m. call for help, a LifeFlight helicopter landed atop the Route 17 bridge over the Swift River just below Coos Canyon, forcing firefighters to route traffic around the area during the rescue.

It was hours before rescuers freed and carried Peterson out of the steep ravine to a waiting ambulance, which took him to the helicopter at about 5 p.m.

Jannace said the pulp, which stayed in the trailer, would have to be unloaded before the rig can be pulled up to the road.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection was expected to be called to the scene later Thursday or Friday morning to contend with leaking fluids. Maine State Police were also called to the scene to inspect the truck.


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