- Our Town
Lakecity family trapped for 17 hours on Coquihalla Highway
Picture it. Slipping and sliding on a highway of ice, terrified that a semi-trailer will crash into you.
That's how a Williams Lake family found themselves Thursday night after being trapped on the Coquihalla Highway west of Merritt with a reported 1,000 other vehicles.
Natasha Lycett, her husband Chad Cameron, and their 11-year-old daughter Harmony spent 17 hours stranded on the so-called Highway of Hell.
"We were very lucky that we didn't get rear-ended and didn't hit anyone in front of us," Natasha said of their harrowing stop in the ice storm that shut the highway down entirely.
The family set out for Vancouver Thursday morning about 10 a.m.
At Cache Creek they learned that Highway 97 south was closed by avalanches.
Highway 5 was also closed so they headed to Kamloops to await news from Drive B.C. on whether the Coquihalla would open.
About 4 p.m. they learned that the Coquihalla was open and headed for Merritt then up the Coquihalla.
Road conditions were rough between Kamloops and Merritt but they had no idea how bad they would get on the Coquihalla.
Before long they were in the middle of a storm with hail and freezing rain coming down so fast and hard that it would instantly freeze to their windshield.
They cranked up the heat as high as it would go, but Chad, while driving, still had to open the window and reach out to slap the wipers to keep them going.
Reaching the top of a hill they found themselves slipping and sliding on glare ice.
"The rain hit all of the compact snow and turned it to ice," Natasha said.
"It was a skating rink," added Harmony.
Concerned that they would hit a vehicle in front of them or be hit by one of the vehicles or big semi-trucks on the road behind them, Natasha said they started coaching Harmony on what to do in case they were in a crash — to hold on, tuck her head down, don't get out of the vehicle if they were surrounded by other vehicles, and call 911.
Natasha said her daughter was more composed than she was through the whole ordeal.
"I was scared," Natasha said. "I started bawling in the truck and begging for my life. It wasn't one of my better moments."
Looking down from the top of a hill they were stopped on, they could see hundreds of semi-trucks and vehicles stopped on either side of the road.
Once safely stopped she said the hardest part was not knowing what was happening. Drive B.C. only reported that the highway was closed.
Fortunately they had packed their winter ski clothes, blankets, candles, paper towels and toilet paper.
She said a lot of people around them were concerned they would run out of gas trying to keep warm but fortunately they had filled up in Merritt and had enough gas to turn the truck on and off periodically to keep warm.
They had eaten a big lunch in Kamloops, and had purchased a box of frosted Mini-Wheats which they munched on through the night.
They forgot to pick up water but fortunately found a bottle behind a seat, left there from a Christmas trip, that they were able to sip on through the night.
Getting out of the vehicle to stretch or go to the toilet beside the road was tricky because they had to hold on to the truck to keep from falling on the ice.
They couldn't sleep much because they didn't know when the road would re-open. When it did re-open in the morning, she said vehicles were only allowed to go down the hill one at a time, very slowly.
There were no vehicle collisions where they came to a stop but there also wasn't any room for sanding trucks to get up the hill to clear a path for the vehicles to come down the hill.
Fortunately they had cell phone reception and were able to keep in constant contact with family who were meeting them in Vancouver to share a Christmas present they had all been given — tickets to the Kinky Boots musical at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Part of the family flew to Vancouver from Kelowna and the other part of the family, including Natasha's mother, Kathy McLean, flew down to Vancouver from Williams Lake.
There was lots of snow in Chilliwack coming into Vancouver but the roads were good and they finally joined the rest of their family in Vancouver at about 1 p.m. Friday.
"It was a hellish night," McLean said. "I've never experienced anything like this in my life. I'm just glad all my kids are safe. Having the technology we have today I was able to stay in constant contact with them."
Natasha said she and Chad both work at Mount Polley Mine so they are used to shift work and despite being sleep deprived plan to have a good time with their family at Kinky Boots.
"Yes we are," added Harmony in the telephone interview from Vancouver.