HAMMOND, Ind. (CBS) — A UPS semi-truck drove off a bridge on the Indiana Toll Road and caught fire before falling into the Calumet River early Friday – but the driver escaped with only minor injuries.
Indiana State Police said just after 2 a.m., the truck hit the Calumet River bridge and caught fire. CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl said the truck dropped in between the east and west lanes. By 11 a.m., part of the truck had detached and fallen into the water.
Another part of the semi was later kept suspended by a crane.
Hammond fire and scuba crews were contacted because responders feared the driver, a 32-year-old resident of south suburban Lansing, was in the river and possibly trapped in the cab. But he was found after about 20 minutes clinging to a bridge support where he was rescued and transported to St. Catherine’s Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
He has since been released from the hospital.
As CBS 2’s Marybel González reported Friday night, it took scuba teams, multiple fire departments, and even a hazmat team to clear the scene. Cleanup crews were still searching the river for debris Friday night – even in the dark.
Longtime investigators said it was one of the worst accident they had seen in a while.
“It’s been a wild day,” said Hammond Deputy Fire Chief Bernie Grisolia. “We see bad accidents – but to see something like this this morning, it was unbelievable.”
Grisolia’s crew was among the first to respond.
“The cab was basically in the water. We had fire,” Grisolia said. “It was just basically a miracle to have anybody survive what we’ve seen today.”
But the driver only suffered minor injuries.
“We did a quick search into the cab of the semi-truck, where they couldn’t find anyone. The crews started sweeping the water way, looking for the driver if he was ejected. No luck,” Grisolia said. “Within about 15 minutes, we did hear some yelling. He was actually hanging on top of the concrete pillar over there.”
It was unclear Friday night what caused the crash, but UPS said they are glad their driver is okay.
UPS released the following statement: “We are thankful our driver is safe and that no other vehicles were involved. We are working with responding authorities on this continuing investigation.”
Meanwhile, cleanup efforts continued through the day and night.
“When that alarm goes off and you get the call, you know if someone’s is calling for help, you don’t really know until you get on the scene,” said Lake County, Indiana Hazmat Coordinator Bill Missal.
The Lake County Hazmat Team searched the Calumet River for any oil spills. Their first responders said it was teamwork that made the rescue effort possible.
“To walk away from this, it was just a blessed day for everyone,” Grisolia said. “It was a miracle.”
We did try to get in contact with the driver to get his side of this harrowing story, but we were unable to reach him.
We are told the cleanup efforts will resume Saturday morning along the Calumet River.