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Crews and onlookers watch as a diver, Jim Iliff, surfaces near the boat launch in Hastings. Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson

Men escape after truck, trailer slide into Mississippi River at boat launch in Hastings

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For good friends Randy Johnson and Jim Hunt, Monday morning was supposed to be spent floating on the St. Croix River and catching walleyes.

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Instead, the two Farmington men escaped tragedy, then spent the new few hours watching from shore as crews fished their truck and trailer out of the water.

At 6 a.m., Hunt picked up Johnson and they traveled to the public boat launch in Hastings, located on the Mississippi River. They got the boat in the water, but it wouldn't start and they eventually drained the battery on the boat. To remedy that, Hunt drove his truck down the launch where he and Johnson planned to attempt to jump the boat's battery with the truck's battery.

For whatever reason, Hunt's truck slipped on the concrete boat launch and once that happened, it was hard to get it to stop.

"He tried to back out," Johnson said. "The truck just slid down the ramp. He tried to put it in reverse and go backwards, and it wasn't happening. When he hit the brakes, the truck kept sliding down the ramp. Next thing you know, it's on its way down."

Hunt tried opening his door to escape, but the water pressure was too great. He crawled out the truck's window and swam to shore.

"I was worried about him," Johnson said of Hunt. "Thank God he got out the window. I wasn't thinking about the truck and the trailer at that point. It was all too quick. My biggest fear was him."

The truck and trailer entered the water, floated for a few minutes, then sank.

The boat was eventually brought to shore and tied up.

Two divers from Dakota County underwater search and recovery team were brought in. The first, Jim Iliff, found the truck and the trailer and successfully attached chains to the trailer. Matt Wayne then went underwater and attached a chain to the truck.

The divers worked with drivers from Southeast Towing to come up with the plan for the operation. Once the chains were attached, the trailer and the truck were successfully removed from the water. The trailer had come unhitched, but its safety chains were still attached to the truck.

The ramp was especially slippery, Johnson said. While preparing to launch the boat, he slipped and fell on the launch.

"It's a lot slicker than it looks," he said.

Earlier this summer, the two-lane launch was reduced to just one lane because of poor conditions.

"Not just half of it should have been shut down," Johnson said. "It should have all been shut down. It's a hazard."

It was the first time they've tried using the launch in Hastings.

The truck was eventually towed to Hunt's son's house in Hastings.

"This definitely got my heart just rapidly beating," Johnson said. "I know that. It was like so fast, but at the same time it was like slow-motion."

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Chad Richardson
Chad Richardson is the publisher and editor at the Hastings Star Gazette. He was the general manager of the Farmington Independent and Rosemount Town Pages from 2000 to 2007. He previously worked at the Star Gazette from 1996 to 2000 as a photographer and reporter. He also worked as a photographer and writer at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood.
(651) 319-4500
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