A 44-year-old Duluth man was killed early Friday after his semi-trailer truck slid off Interstate 35 and into the St. Louis River at Scanlon amid snowy conditions, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.
The name of the driver was not immediately released pending notification of family.
The northbound truck crashed at about 4:41 a.m. after sliding off the northbound lane of I-35 just before the bridge. It landed on its side, partially submerged in the water in the median between the north- and southbound bridges, Cloquet Area Fire District Chief Kevin Schroeder said.
Witnesses called to report the crash.
Several law enforcement and firefighting agencies came together to search for the driver, including the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office and Cloquet Police Department.
The Cloquet-area firefighters discovered the driver’s body just over two hours after the accident and walked into the water “downshore from the bridges” to get him, Schroeder said.
The water was deep at that point in the river, he said. Once the firefighters got the man’s body to shore, the rescue boat retrieved him from the staging area near the River Inn in Scanlon.
Schroeder explained that the winds and waves on the river were too strong for the firefighters’ rapid deployment craft, so the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office brought its larger water rescue boat while firefighters donned their waterproof water rescue suits to search the river on foot.
Firefighters were joined by emergency responders from Esko Volunteer Fire Department and the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, as well as officers from the Cloquet Police Department, Carlton County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota State Patrol.
No other vehicles were involved in the early-morning accident, Schroeder said.
It was the first winter storm of the season, and high winds and snow made visibility poor. Roads were already slick when the crash occurred, Schroeder said.
“It’s not the worst, but it ranks up there,” the chief said when asked about the rescue conditions.
“It could be colder,” said Carlton County Chief Deputy Brian Belich, who assisted at the staging area.
“That’s the saving grace,” Schroeder agreed. “It could be below zero. The weather couldn’t get any worse, but at least we can work in these temperatures.”
There were dozens of other crashes Friday morning, mostly fender-benders, Schroeder said. Area schools opened as usual, which surprised Schroeder and Belich.
Road conditions throughout Carlton County were poor during most of the morning Friday. As of about 9:30 a.m., the National Weather Service reported snow totals at 7 inches in Mahtowa, and 5 inches in Esko.
“It just needs to warm up and start melting this slop,” Belich said.
The Cloquet Police Department issued an advisory at 7:12 a.m., urging motorists to use extreme caution.
“If you must travel this morning, plan extra time to arrive at your destination, slow down and give extra space between vehicles for braking,” the announcement urged.