Rescue Worker Recalls River Rescue

A Charleston firefighter and member of the dive team did not immediately know there were two people in the cab of a tractor trailer submerged in the Kanawha River on Monday morning. The tractor trailer had dropped more than 80 feet off the Fort Hill Bridge on Interstate 64 and into the water at about 9:30 on Monday morning.

Firefighter Jeff Showalter, who was the first dive team member into the water, told MetroNews they were able to get 57-year-old Phillip Chaizoi, from Columbus, Ohio, out of sleeper part of the cab in treacherous conditions.

"There was maybe six inches of visibility in the water, a lot of mud is churned up in there. You couldn't see," Showalter said. "You had to hold on or you'd get washed away. It (the current) was moving pretty quick."

He said Chaizoi had initially told them he was the only person in the cab. They pulled him out into a rescue boat, and Showalter said, "At that time, we thought the rescue was over with just him. When we were getting ready to load him into the boat, then he started saying 'my buddy was driving' so then it was like, okay, we're not done."

Getting to the driver took a different approach.

"There was so much debris from the sleeper, it had it completely blocked off to go from the sleeper to the cab. Whenever we recovered the second person, we actually had to go around the truck into the current and enter from a side window," he said.

The second person pulled from th cab was the driver of the tractor trailer. The man, identified as 40-year-old Hussen Awad, of Columbus, Ohio, died from injuries sustained in the accident.

Showalter talked about the rescue effort on Tuesday's MetroNews Talkline along with Charleston Fire Lieutenant Mark Strickland who was also in the water on Monday. Charleston Police Cpl. Nick Null went into the water first after arriving on scene was also part of the show.

"Who would ever have thought a tractor trailer would fall off the Oakwood Bridge and land in the river?" asked Lt. Strickland.

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Divers Say Seconds Seemed Like Hours

The Charleston Fire Department rescue dive team risked their own lives to help save the two men whose truck plunged over the bridge nearly 50 feet into the Kanawha River below Monday morning.
Lt. Mark Strickland says they got the call around 9:45 and immediately jumped to action and were on scene within minutes.
"We have equipment in place. We have the manpower in place. We have divers throughout the city. We had members gathered here. We had a rope system set up. We had boats in the water," he said. "Everything was working as planned, but seconds seemed like hours." Especially when they heard someone inside the cab of the truck screaming and begging for help.

Strickland was one of the first in the water. "The first one [victim] was speaking to us. He was in a considerable amount of pain and believe it or not scared. He took a great ride from the top of that bridge to 6-feet underwater."

Luckily the victim was conscious because Strickland said that's how they learned there was a second man trapped in the rig underwater. "We asked him his name, what he could tell us. I asked him if there was anybody in the cab with him. He said yes the driver. That's how we got the second person information," he said.

But getting the driver out of the submerged vehicle proved much more difficult. He was still tapped in his seat and the river conditions weren't helping.

"The water was cold. The diesel fuel that was coming out of the truck contaminated the water. We were swimming in some pretty unhealthy water," he said. "And it's dark down there in the middle of the barge channel and the rain and swift currents weren't helping us at all."
When they finally managed to bring the second victim to the surface, they loaded him onto a Charleston Fire Department boat and began CPR. Hussen Awad, 40, of Columbus, Ohio died Monday evening at CAMC General.

Strickland says what they did is all in a days work. But those who saw them bring out the two men say they are nothing less than heroes.