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Ice machine driver thought he was going to die

The ice resurfacer driver who was flooding the Sylvan Lake Arena ice when its roof collapsed early Monday morning was sure he was about to die.

“I was expecting to be killed. I really thought, because I had a fraction of a second, ‘You can’t escape this.’ I really thought an eight-by-eight at 80 miles an hour would wipe me out,” said Pat Sawyer over the phone from Calgary.

In Tuesday’s Advocate, it was reported that the ice resurfacer driver got off of his machine upon hearing cracking noises above and left the 40-year-old arena moments before a large portion of the roof crashed down onto the ice surface. In fact, Sawyer remained on the ice resurfacer as the structure came crashing down.

“I heard a sequence of bangs. Then, after the second bang I drove about 30 feet. I just turned the steering wheel to take another lap and then there was one bang and the roof came down, and it came down straight on me.

“I grabbed hold of the steering wheel and the exact words out of my mouth were ‘I’m dead.’ I just covered my head and ducked as low as I could,” he said.

And though rubble came down all around him, Sawyer said he felt nothing.

“I couldn’t believe it — not a mark on me.”

Sawyer was alone in the rink when the collapse happened around 12:30 a.m., clearing the ice after a women’s hockey team used the arena late Sunday evening. After the roof came down, he quickly regained his composure, finding it amusing that he could stand inside the old arena and see planes flying overhead.

He then called arena operator Graham Parsons before thinking to shut the gas off in the arena after noticing flashes and sparks from the electrical wiring that had come down with the roof.

Sawyer had worked at the rink for 24 years, and he said while there had been some indications that the roof was under stress, all older arenas are subject to some movement and structural issues. The structural assessment of the rink conducted in 2012 stated that “the roof can safely carry about 14 to 15 (inches) of snow before it will be cause for concern.”

The roof collapse is being investigated by the town and demolition of the remaining structure has not yet begun. Until that happens, the town says, the adjacent multiplex will remain closed, hampering local sports groups.

In a letter to Sylvan Lake residents sent out on Wednesday, town chief administrative officer Betty Osmond said a review of the town’s routine procedures prior to the collapse is being done. She pointed out that the curling club was closed twice this winter because too much snow had accumulated on its roof and said she “would have had no hesitation to have closed the Arena as well, had I known of the snow load situation.”

Sawyer, who said he has barely slept since the incident, believes both he and the town are very fortunate the collapse was not as bad as it could have been. He said if a team had been out on the ice at the time of the collapse, there would have surely been deaths.

“There’s always a goalie at that end of the rink guarding the net. So guaranteed the goalie would have got it. ... If the play was in that end, every one of them would have probably been seriously hurt or dead.”

Demolition work on the site is now in the hands of an insurance company.



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