Two men tried in vain for 15 minutes to free a motorist trapped in 8 feet of water. Then came the man with the boom truck.
Drivers on Hwy. 101 in Otsego watched helplessly Friday morning as a pickup truck careened wildly for nearly a mile across traffic lanes and the median before crashing through a fence and into a holding pond.
Two men quickly plunged into the chilly water while a third got his boom truck to pull out Lance Osterkamp, a 64-year-old welder from Princeton, Minn., whose truck sank into 8 or more feet of water.
Dale Cazett, 50, of Elk River said he came upon the scene while driving to work and could tell that "someone went through the fence, and there were people running around." He thinks he arrived just a moment after the crash because "there were still air bubbles when I got there."
Cazett jumped the fence, stripped off his shirt and shoes, and headed into the chilly pond. Along with another man who stopped, he tried futilely to free Osterkamp, who was belted in with the doors locked.
They broke the driver's side window with a sledgehammer but could not free Osterkamp, who was submerged in "water [that] was so murky, all you could do was feel."
The help they needed arrived when Chris Eklund maneuvered his construction boom truck into position near the pond and lifted Osterkamp and his truck from the pond.
Paramedics removed the unconscious Osterkamp from the truck and airlifted him from the scene near County Road 39 to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, where he remained in critical condition Friday evening.
"Man, I wish we could've got him out sooner," said Cazett, who estimated that about 15 minutes passed from the time he joined in the rescue until Eklund's construction boom truck pulled the pickup and the man from the holding pond. "That would've helped."
As they waited for news Friday, Osterkamp's family members were grateful for all the rescuers' efforts, said a hospital spokesman, who said they want "to pass along their thanks to all the people who stopped to help."
Brennan Bohman, 21, of Eagan said his grandfather was looking forward to retiring within a year and spending more time fishing, "working around the yard ... [and] enjoying a beer."
'Dirt flying everywhere'
The drama began about 6:30 a.m., said a witness, Kim Steuck of Elk River, who was entering southbound Hwy. 101 and saw the pickup veer into the median.
"There was dirt flying everywhere," said Steuck, adding that the vehicle remained in the median for about a half-mile, then hit a sound barrier on the northbound side before it "picked up some speed," rammed through the fence and sank into the pond.
At one point, the truck rolled almost "end over end," before landing back on its tires, added Eklund, who was about four cars behind Osterkamp and said it appeared Osterkamp may have been unconscious as his truck went out of control. "It didn't hardly even touch the ground,'' Eklund said.
The State Patrol said Friday they are trying to determine what caused Osterkamp to lose control of his truck.
Cazett said he never gave a second thought about jumping into the pond.
"It must've been the adrenaline," he said. "The water was cold, but it didn't seem to affect you then. I can't imagine what those people did on the 35W bridge" when it collapsed nearly two years ago into the Mississippi River.
But Eklund knows some of those people who were on the 35W bridge.
His wife, Joy, said her husband was on the Minneapolis span that August day in 2007 with other workers for Progressive Contractors Inc. just hours before the bridge crumbled, but he left early to be with their son at a cow show in Aitkin, Minn.
On Friday, with the morning dramatics over, Eklund, 48, of Cambridge, resumed his workday without telling his wife until midafternoon.
"I just hope somebody pulls me out of the pond if I go in," he said.