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August 29, 2018 4:30 PM, EDT

Pioneering Tanker Driver's Passing Mourned by Alaska Trucking Community

Joy Wiebe Was Only Female Tanker Driver in Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields
Dalton Highway outside of Deadhorse, Alaska Dalton Highway outside of Deadhorse, Alaska. (Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities via AP)

A Dalton Highway veteran said to be the only woman driving fuel tankers to Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil fields died in a rollover crash early on Aug. 24.

Authorities on Aug. 27 identified the driver as Joy Wiebe, 50, a Fairbanks resident and transport driver for many years. The crash occurred about 31 miles south of Deadhorse.

Colville, the transport company Wiebe was working for, issued a statement saying they were “mourning the tragic death” of an employee.

Wiebe was hauling a 59-foot tanker with 9,700 gallons of diesel fuel bound for Prudhoe just before 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 23 when the tractor went off a soft shoulder and down a steep embankment, according to the statement.

The force of the impact caused the tanker to flip, which then flipped the tractor further into a swamp basin, the company said.

Wiebe died at the scene “despite efforts by two other Colville drivers who stopped to render assistance,” the statement from president and CEO Dave Pfeifer said.

Women In Trucking President Ellen Voie expressed her sympathy.

“Joy Wiebe was another amazing woman who was both a pioneer and an icon who quietly did her job alongside her male peers,” Voie said. “We are so sorry to hear of the tragedy, and our thoughts go out to her family and friends. She was another amazing female driver who will be missed.”

Stunned friends described Wiebe as a careful driver with a generous spirit, one of few women driving trucks on the road that links Interior Alaska with the North Slope oil fields. Wiebe leaves behind three children and her husband, Greg.

“I am honestly in such shock,” said Amy Butcher, a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University who is working on a book about Wiebe. “I did that road with her in April. She knew that road better than anybody.”

Wiebe drove the road for 13 years, according to Butcher, who plans to finish the book, she said.

The gravel and dirt highway once known as the North Slope Haul Road runs 414 miles from the Elliott Highway to Deadhorse.

The weather was foggy when the rig left the road, according to an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation update. The accident was reported to DEC at about 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 24.

Just less than 1,800 gallons of the 9,716 gallons of diesel in the tanker spilled, according to DEC environmental program specialist Colin Taylor. Crews recovered all but about 275 gallons as of Aug. 27, Taylor said.

Tundra surrounds the rollover site, where wildlife including caribou, fox and migratory birds are frequently seen. Other cleanup concerns included fiber optic cables and an Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. gas line, he said.

Colville is in the process of developing a work plan for all future work needed including necessary excavation, soil sampling, waste disposal and environmental remediation, according to a DEC update issued the afternoon of Aug. 27. Sorbent materials will be used to collect any visible hydrocarbon sheen at the spill site. Passive bird and animal hazing resources will be used to deter wildlife from entering the area.

Colville has 55 drivers who operate a fleet of tractor-tanker rigs hauling fuel from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay, according to the company. The team makes about 2,000 fuel transport trips per year.

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