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Trapped trucker survives hours in subzero temps

Deep Freeze Stuck Under Truck

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Tim Rutledge's eyelid had frozen shut. His voice was hoarse after competing for hours with bitter-cold wind and humming truck engines while screaming for help. He was losing consciousness, pinned under his rig in sub-zero temperatures at an Indiana truck stop.

The longtime Florida truck driver had crawled under his truck with a hammer to break ice away from his brakes around 4 a.m. Monday, as record-breaking temperatures swept into the state. But the truck suddenly settled deeper into the snow, pinning him beneath an axle.

CORRECTION Deep Freeze Stuck Under Truck

The 53-year-old was trapped, helpless as his cellphone rang dozens of times in a coat pocket he couldn't reach. It had been about eight hours. He feared he was near death.

Then his phone suddenly toppled from his pocket, this vibrating ring enough to finally wiggle it free. He was able to scoop it up with right hand inside a frozen glove, use its voice dial to call a company dispatcher and muster a quiet plea for help.

"I said 'Whoever this is, don't hang up on me because it's going to be the last time that I'll be able to call. I can't call out and I can't answer the phone,'" Rutledge said Thursday, recalling his experience as he sat in a leather armchair at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

His body temperature was so low that just one more hour likely would have been fatal. Yet he was released from the hospital on Thursday and planned to fly back home to Orlando, Fla., with little more than numbness in his left hand and side where the axle had pinned him.

"There was another hand in this," he said. "If my phone would've dropped the other way, I could never have called anyone. If it (the truck) would've sunk any farther, I wouldn't have had a need to call anyone."

Steve Moseley, a dispatcher with First Coast Express of Jacksonville, Fla., said he feared the worst after numerous calls to Rutledge went unanswered. Moseley answered Rutledge's call for help Monday afternoon, and said his voice grew quieter during their conversation until it dimmed to a whisper.

"At one time I called out to him and he didn't say anything," Moseley said. "That scared me a bit."

His trucking company called the truck stop and emergency workers were summoned to search for him as temperatures dropped to more than 10 below zero in the area, with wind gusts of 30 mph leading to wind chills of negative 35 or colder.

It took time for workers to find his semi amid the sea of parked trucks at the Pilot Travel Center in Whiteland, just south of Indianapolis.

Rutledge had been driving a load from Florida when he stopped Sunday evening at the truck stop, less than an hour away from his destination. As he slept in his cab at the truck stop, several inches of snow fell and temperatures plunged. He woke up to frozen breaks.

By the time he reached the hospital, Rutledge's body temperature had fallen to about 86 degrees.

Dr. Timothy Pohlman, a trauma surgeon who treated him, said another hour outside likely would have been fatal for Rutledge. But he said being under the truck likely shielded him somewhat from the dangerous wind gusts.

"I think just the fact that he had to crawl under a semi to figure out why he broke down in a way forced him to do what is taught in a lot of survival courses for people who have to work in extreme environments," Pohlman said.

Pohlman said Rutledge, who somehow emerged without any frostbite injuries, should fully recover.
__

Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine in Indianapolis contributed to this story.

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John Myers January 09 2014 at 9:24 PM

Amazing. I would imagine you are very thankfull for cellphones. I hope you have a bit more care in future. Congrats on getting out in fair shape.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
a1cowpattyz January 09 2014 at 10:49 PM

We all make mistakes............this guy had a guardian angel lookin' after him.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Tony Reynolds January 09 2014 at 10:59 PM

I drive a truck too, and had to deal with frozen brakes this week in Johnson City, TN in a dusting of snow in 17degree temp. There is no way I can imagine what this man went through ! This just further proves that there is a GOD upstairs looking out for us. Jesus Christ ! !

Flag Reply +6 rate up
jopo26 January 09 2014 at 11:02 PM

good luck,god speed hurry home where it's warm

Flag Reply +4 rate up
edsbiz7 January 09 2014 at 11:04 PM

CLOSE CALL...

Flag Reply +4 rate up
kjasperkc January 09 2014 at 11:06 PM

Mr. Rutledge is alive and well! This certainly is a gift of a miracle and it's wonderful.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
cgoergejr January 09 2014 at 11:11 PM

Praise the Lord on you're escape and recovery and everyone caring enough to get to you in time.!!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
jazzkickerr January 09 2014 at 11:13 PM

Glad Mr. Rutledge is OK. I would not have survived this incident. =)

Flag Reply +3 rate up
lmwhitehst January 10 2014 at 12:22 AM

"God Works in mysterious ways, His Wonders to Perform!". Truly, you are blessed! Give Thanks!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
cahoonah January 09 2014 at 11:13 PM

I REALLY THINK WHAT HE WAS TRYING TO FIX WAS HIS "BRAKES",,NOT HIS BREAKS!!!!!!! GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELPS THEMSELVES.....GOD (thru thoughts) HAD HIM PUT HIS CELL PHONE IN HIS POCKET........MOST OF OUR TRUCKERS ARE EXTREMELY GOOD THINKERS WHEN WORKING ON THEIR RIGS.." THAT'S LADIES AND MEN ".

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