by Senior Master Sgt. Mike Hammond
JBER Public Affairs
11/21/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- A
November hunting trip in the extreme North turned into a lifesaving
opportunity in the blink of an eye for two master sergeants from Joint
It was a cold night, even by Alaska standards: 7-below temperatures with
a 35-below wind chill factor. Air Force master sergeants David Barber
and Morgan Cabaniss, 673d Security Forces Squadron, were on the tail end
of a long drive up the Dalton Highway - known locally as "Haul Road,"
to join four friends in a caribou hunt.
By 11 p.m., Nov. 2, the sergeants were about a hundred miles north of
the Arctic Circle and a couple of hours from their rendezvous point when
Cabaniss noticed something wrong.
"We were going over Atigun Pass when we came up on a trucker. He was
going really slowly, and I could see his tail lights reflecting off the
road behind him," Cabaniss said. "I had just told Dave [Barber] that the
road must be really slick, when the truck started to jackknife. We
could see his tail lights and his headlights both pointing back at us!"
Barber explained what happened next.
"There was a turn in the road ahead of him, but he was jackknifed and
slid right over the edge of the road and hit a snow bank. The truck came
to rest with the cab in the snow bank and the back tires of the trailer
on the road," Barber said. "But he was right at the edge of about a
"That snow was the only thing between him and the drop."
Barber stopped their vehicle about 80 yards from the wrecked semi,
concerned they might join the driver in a long skid down the icy,
While Barber quickly began putting on heavy winter gear that had been
too bulky to drive with, Cabaniss sprang into action - running toward
"I just did it; just went," Cabaniss said. "I didn't really think about
it. And when I got to the edge of the road and looked down the
embankment, I saw the door of the cab propped open. The trucker was
wedged between the door and the side of his vehicle."
Barber said his friend's next words made the danger clear.
"We've gotta get him out of here - the truck may go down!" Cabaniss shouted.
So Cabaniss went over the edge of the road and found himself in
waist-deep snow without even hitting a solid surface below. He half-swam
his way to the cab and helped the dazed and injured trucker out.
Unfortunately, the trucker had not been fully geared up against the
elements while driving, and the violent impact had tossed all the gear
around the damaged cab.
"He was freaking out. He only had jeans and a T-shirt on, and had
managed to grab a boot and a tennis shoe when he came out of the cab,"
Cabaniss said. "And he appeared shocked ... he kind of froze up on me."
Aside from the trucker's delayed ability to move, Cabaniss realized he
would soon literally freeze up, based on the elements and lack of shoes
and proper clothing.
In addition, there was still a very real possibility the truck would
slide off the drop - taking them both with it to their doom.
"I told him the truck might go, and that got him moving a bit," Cabaniss
said. "So I helped pull him back through that deep snow and then we got
him back to our vehicle to warm up. We put a jacket on him and gave him
Barber said the pair then drove about 10 miles back down the road, where
they'd noticed a highway maintenance station with a pay phone.
Cell phone service was non-existent in the remote area.
The trucker managed to dial a few numbers and they put out some calls on
a citizen's band radio, but no one answered in either case.
About 35 minutes later, a Department of Transportation safety official finally came by the station and picked up the driver.
It was the last the master sergeants saw of the man whose life they'd
saved, but they contacted his employer and learned the driver is already
back out on the road.
"We found out this guy was one of the most experienced truckers
operating in the area," Cabaniss said. "That fact, plus the fact that
besides us, no one else would have come by for 45 minutes or more,
really made me realize that in Alaska, you have to always be ready to
take care of yourself.
"You can't always just run outside and yell for help or make a phone
call. His truck wasn't running due to the wreck. In those temperatures,
he probably wouldn't have lasted the 45 minutes until someone else came
by, especially not being dressed for the weather."
Barber said the experience reinforced the need to dress properly, have
all emergency supplies, and be ready and able to help yourself or others
should a situation take a turn for the worse.
Cabaniss said he's been up that route many times before and has never
seen something like this happen, which could lead to a false sense of
safety and security.
"You just can't get complacent here," Cabaniss said.