MIAMI, OK — Emergency crews staged a rescue in subzero weather Thursday after a sport utility vehicle with eight people from Carthage, Mo., inside plunged 61 feet off a Will Rogers Turnpike bridge into the icy Spring River near the Missouri border.
Driver Leonor Alcano, 31, and Irma Garcia, 37, died at the scene, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
A third person, Douglas Monzon, 22, died at 12:30 p.m. at a hospital in Joplin, Mo., a hospital spokesman said.
Fransica Cosagua, 21; Eli Feliberto, 19; Julio Garcia, 21; Samuel Hernandez, 22; and Mario Romero, 30, also were taken to hospitals.
All were recovering from hypothermia in Joplin, Mo.
“Doctors have given them a good prognosis,'' Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. George Brown said.
The maroon-colored SUV was headed west when Alcano lost control on the ice-covered roadway, hit a concrete wall, then slid into and over the bridge wall, landing on its wheels in 4 feet of water about 6:25 a.m., according to the patrol's report.
The bridge is about six miles southwest of the Missouri border.
The plows that cleared the four-lane highway's outside lanes pushed the snow up against the outside guardrails, and that snow acted as a ramp when the SUV hit it, Ottawa County Sheriff Terry Durborow said.
Firefighters, paramedics and dive teams worked in air temperatures of minus 11 degrees during the rescue.
Six people were rescued from the top of the vehicle, including Monzon, who died later at a hospital, Brown said. Four helicopters were used to airlift the men to medical facilities.
The accident happened less than nine hours after one westbound lane of the turnpike reopened after a Tuesday blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow. Brown declined to speculate on whether the highway was reopened prematurely.
Jack Damrill, spokesman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, said ice and snowdrifts had been a problem since the blizzard.
Wednesday night, westbound lanes were cleared and opened to traffic. Damrill said driving was hazardous in the westbound lanes Thursday morning with patches of ice and snowdrifts.
Emergency responders from Miami, Wyandotte, the Quapaw Tribe and Newton County, Mo., participated in the rescue. Dive teams rescued the men by throwing cables and baskets over the bridge railing and wading through waist-deep icy water to get to the vehicle.
Six of the emergency responders were treated for exposure at a hospital. Five were released, and one was kept for observation, authorities said.
Capt. Chris West, a highway patrol spokesman, said dive teams, including one from Missouri, risked their lives to rescue the men.
“Those guys were heroes,” West said.
“They were wading around in that frigid water. The five survivors — they probably owe their lives to those rescuers who got there.”
AT A GLANCE
Road clearing work continues
Crews continued to plow, salt and sand roads Thursday throughout central and eastern Oklahoma. The eastern third of the state had the worst road conditions, but most interstates, turnpikes and highways were re
State officials continued to discourage travel Thursday.
Meantime, Oklahoma City-area road conditions continued to improve.
Crews have been treating roadways nonstop since early Tuesday, said Mike DeGiacomo, city streets superintendent.
DeGiacomo expected to have at least one lane in both directions clear on all the emergency snow routes by Thursday night.
â€œThat doesn't necessarily mean we've got clear pavement from curb to curb,â€ he added, cautioning motorists to remain careful as melted snow and ice likely would refreeze overnight. If time allows, crews will try to go back and plow curb to curb.
â€œWe don't have enough resources to try to do all the streets in Oklahoma City,â€ DeGiacomo said. â€œThat's why we concentrate on the emergency snow routes.â€
By Thursday afternoon, the city had spent about $350,000, including overtime, on clearing roads of snow and ice dumped by the blizzard.
DeGiacomo said the city would be ready for the next forecast snowfall since crews already are up and running.
From Staff Reports