DEER CREEK RESERVOIR — A dive team spent the day Tuesday pulling dead turkeys and pieces of a wrecked truck from Deer Creek Reservoir.
“They’re just kind of floating. Deeper down, there are probably even more,” said commercial diver Jon Cross with Marine Projects Inc. “We’ll try to get as many as we can. They look like statues as you come across them in 5-foot visibility.”
A truck hauling 720 live turkeys from the Moroni Feed Company to Norbest Inc. in Gunnison, Sanpete County, went out of control on U.S. 189 and plunged into Deer Creek Reservoir on April 24, killing most of the birds and injuring the driver.
Cross said he sees a lot of strange things when he swims below the water’s surface, but this is one of the most unusual dives he’s ever made.
“It’s not a normal occurrence,” Cross said. “Commercial divers don’t usually just go recover turkeys.”
This from a man who says he’s dived in strange substances such as cheese and sulfuric acid.
Cross’ father, Jim Cross, runs the dive operation.
“He’s very good at it,” Jim Cross said of his son. “He’s like an underwater vacuum cleaner.”
The turkey and debris are littered on a steep slope underwater.
“There are big boulders that made up the original hillside. He’s got to be careful there,” Jim Cross said. "If you dislodge one of those, it can cause problems for a diver.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Jon Cross had pulled up 30 turkeys, the roof of the cab from the truck, and a piece of dashboard with the radio attached. They estimate there could be more than 100 turkeys still under water.
Right after the crash, the Wasatch County Health Department found traces of E. coli in the water from the turkeys, as well as a diesel and petroleum sheen from the truck on the water.
The contaminants have dispersed for now, and county health officials say the drinking water is safe.
Even though water sampling showed no lasting contamination from the crash, downstream users want to get as many of the turkey carcasses and as much of the debris from the wrecked truck out of the water, according to the health department.
"We do a lot of water response, but this is the first time we've actually had a semi go off the side of the road into a lake," said John Hart, chief operating officer with Enviro Care Inc.
They expect to keep diving for two or three more days. They will continue to monitor the booms, which are still absorbing diesel and other petroleum products from the truck, according to Hart.
They’ve already extracted more than 50 gallons of diesel fuel from the surface of the water.
“Our aim is to get every last one of (the turkeys) out,” Hart said. “It’s critical to remove any of this fuel so it doesn’t make it into the drinking water.”
When the dive operation is over, the Wasatch County Health Department plans to do more water sampling to make sure the cleanup is complete.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to put up a memorial for the hundreds of turkeys killed in the crash. Its initial request was denied Friday by the Utah Department of Transportation. UDOT officials said the request didn't meet policy standards for roadside memorials and it will not make an exception in this case.
Tuesday, PETA requested the department reconsider its decision, reiterating the fact that turkeys feel pain and are deserving of empathy.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc