Alaska Off-Roaders Save Jeep Wrangler From Sinking to Bottom of Frozen Lake

It came awfully close to plummeting 600 feet into the frigid abyss.

byCaleb Jacobs|
Jeep News photo

Four-wheeling near the Arctic Circle is, in some ways, more complicated than anywhere else on Earth. For example, you don't have to worry about tip-toeing around glaciers or falling through a frozen lake when taking on Moab's famous trails. Even for locals, it gets tricky from time to time. As proof, take Josh Tills and his 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, which was recently recovered from an icy near-death experience at Knik Glacier, about 50 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska.

Tills and his girlfriend were traveling with an off-road convoy of 30 to 40 vehicles on Jan. 26 when the catastrophe happened, according to Anchorage Daily News. They had met up in the Jim Creek parking lot and headed for the nearby frozen lake, after which the group split in several directions. Tills saw a few off-roaders drive near the glacier so he followed suit, with his trusty Jeep plugging along the deceivingly thin ice.

It was then that a loud noise signaled trouble. Tills surveyed the area, only to find the ice cracking and his Wrangler sinking. At this point, his rear windows were letting in water; the temperature outside was 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

He and his girlfriend were able to escape from the plunging 4x4, though it looked as if the rig's fate was sealed. Underneath them was an almost-unbelievable 600 feet of water to the lake bottom, where the Jeep seemed to surely be headed. There were only about four inches of ice where the vehicle fell through; 12 to 15 inches is typically considered safe to cross.

Robert Gecas via Facebook

Tills' situation was posted to a host of local Facebook groups along with daunting photos of the half-gone Wrangler. Community members saw what happened and soon organized a plan to assess the Jeep, which was left overnight as they were unable to recover it that Sunday.

Come Monday, the Jeep was still afloat as an ice shelf had drifted underneath it, holding it at least partially above the surface. It took a massive effort from Tills' insurance company, who sent for divers and a helicopter team to retrieve the Jeep.

It was on Tuesday that the divers arrived, although the weather was too bad to approve take-off for the chopper. Members from the local Facebook groups had turned up to watch the recovery and, instead of waiting idly by, they decided to pitch in by putting together a smart strap system. With three vehicles tied to Tills' Jeep and another three anchoring them behind, they were able to carefully yank the Wrangler out with minimal damage.

In fact, no fluids were found to have leaked into the water, a relief for everyone involved who works to protect the balance of nature when driving through these otherworldly landscapes. Driving is permitted where Tills' Jeep fell through the ice, although the Department of Natural Resources advises everyone who ventures out to tread with caution and be prepared to execute self-saving measures since the area isn't regularly patrolled.

The green LJ was carried on a tow truck to Ice Monkey Garage in Anchorage, where owner Casey Durand let Tills park his Jeep until it dried out, free of charge. Amazingly, the engine didn't take on any water and, after sitting for hours, the electrical system thawed and flickered back to life.

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