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Truck Driver Survives 8 Hours in Sub-Zero Temperatures

by Jana Ritter - Published: 1/10/2014

If the freezing temperatures aren’t enough to deal with, imagine what truck driver Tim Rutledge went through being trapped under his truck for about eight hours during the height of this week’s cold snap.

Hospitalized driver

At about 4am on Monday, the 53-year old Florida truck driver was stationed at an Indiana truck stop and had crawled under his truck with a hammer to loosen ice from the brakes. The truck suddenly settled deeper into the snow, pinning him beneath an axle and leaving him trapped in the bitter cold. His eyelid had frozen shut, his voice was hoarse after trying to scream over the bitter-cold wind and humming truck engines to try and get help. He was losing consciousness, pinned under the big in sub-zero temperatures.

He was unable to answer his cell phone that rang dozens of times in a coat pocket he couldn't reach and after about eight hours, he feared he was near death.  Suddenly a miracle occurred when his vibrating phone suddenly had enough movement to topple from his pocket – close enough that he could scoop it up with his right hand inside a frozen glove. Using its voice dial, he called a company dispatcher and could barely muster a 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 at the IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Steve Moseley, a dispatcher with First Coast Express of Jacksonville 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 -10F (-23C) in the area, with wind gusts of 30mph leading to wind chills of -35F (-37C) 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.

By the time he reached the hospital, Rutledge's body temperature had fallen to about 86F (30C). Doctors said his body temperature was so low when he arrived at the hospital that just one more hour likely would have been fatal. Luckily he recovered enough that he was released from the hospital on Thursday and flew back home to Orlando, Florida on Friday. Rutledge said he was lucky to be alive.

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