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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingDecember 06 - December 12, 2017

Five Days in a Ditch

0 b7dc2By Jim "Buck" Sorrenti

Doug Yates Towing & Recovery of Chattanooga, Tenn., is a third-generation family business started in 1946 by Doug's father, Lloyd. Doug's son Shannon is the company's vice-president.

On Oct. 6, 2014 they were called by NES Rentals to recover a reach lift that was headed to a Tennessee Valley Authority Powerhouse near Reliance, Tenn., in a national forest area.

"TVA Powerhouse was having a new roof installed in a very remote area in the Appalachian Mountains," Shannon said. "It was a winding narrow road that led to the powerhouse. Already on several occasions we'd had to rescue tractor-trailers delivering equipment to the powerhouse.

"The roofing company's employee was driving the reach lift to the powerhouse and got over too close the edge," Shannon said. "The edge of the road gave way and the lift tumbled down 150 feet and landed in a creek. The driver jumped off before it left the roadway.

"The machinery was located in an area that was very difficult, challenging and dangerous," said Shannon. "By the time our crew arrived, it was raining hard and getting dark. To safely access the area where the machinery rested required rappelling gear. With the rain and dark conditions, it was decided it would be best to wait until next day to begin the cleanup and recovery.

"At this time, we put together our strategic plan and took notes on how to get large equipment back to the recovery area. The road conditions were so severe that the company that rented the machine had to drive it back to the powerhouse from the main road. This was because the rental companies refused to bring in large equipment due to the danger."

The next day they responded with minimal crew and materials to contain the fuel and oil spill. They sent three men and also had an insurance agent ride with them to the scene to document the severity of the location. Once on the scene, their spill-response crew sent two men down to the bottom.

Yates came with their Hazmat spill and heavy-duty recovery teams to the accident scene. They responded with two 75-ton rotators, a 1075 Challenger rotator on a twin-steer Peterbilt, and a 9909 Challenger rotator on a Peterbilt, a 20 Series Century tandem rollback on an International and their emergency spill response team trucks and trailers.

Doug Yates operated both rotators at the same time, using both remote controls. Operators Julio Castro and Mario Bartolo assisted Doug up top. Shannon and Brian Cahoon rappelled down, leading the recovery process and heading up the fuel spill cleanup in the creek.

"This recovery was not only a challenge, but getting both 80,000-pound rotators to the recovery site was a major job," Shannon said. "It took hours just to get to the site. Hairpin turns with no shoulder and straight drop offs that were several hundred feet to the bottom came into play."

Initial priority was to contain the fuel spill. Then there had to be a clear path for the machine to travel back up the mountainside. Trees were cut and removed from the path.

They began by working to get the machine upright and on its wheels before ascending back up the mountain. The 7/8" wire ropes were pulled down and across the creek to a large rock that was used as a dead man and directional change. The machine was stood back on its wheels using the dead man and snatch block.

The reach lift was then rigged for the climb back up the hill. With the machine weighing just over 30,000 lbs. and both rotators at 80,000 lbs. each, there would be nearly 100 tons of force on the roadway 150' above. Both rotators worked off the side together to slowly winch the reach lift back up to the roadway.

Once the reach lift was back up the mountain, it was loaded onto the Century rollback and transported back to the yard.

On the fifth and final day, the Yates crew responded to remove the remaining booms, pads and contaminated items. They had to once again rappel down into the spill site. They also lowered steel drums to contain the contaminated products. After all contaminated items were placed in the drums and sealed, they were pulled back up the steep mountain with ropes and pulleys.

"At anytime the dirt roadway could have given way, causing our crew and the equipment to plummet down the side of the cliff," Shannon said. "The terrain was so steep that all technicians had to tie off and rappel to the crash site. Once at the crash site, our technicians had to fight swift moving water, while containing the petroleum leaks and rigging the machine for recovery.

"At anytime, the machine could have shifted injuring our crew. Our team performed flawlessly, causing no further damage to the overturned machine, and prevented the pollutants from causing any further damage to the environment. Due to the extreme risk that our company employees and equipment were exposed to, our company put our men and millions of dollars in equipment on the line for this recovery and cleanup."

This article previously appeared in the Nov.5, 2014 edition of Tow Industry Week.

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Do you have a recovery to share with TIW readers? Send some pics and info to our Field Editor Jim "Buck" Sorrenti at; your story may even be selected for print in American Towman magazine!
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