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Road cave-in claims four lives (The Enterprise, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 1979)

Ludwig Huttig’s pickup truck lies on an island in the middle of the Bouquet River this morning. The rushing water battered the truck and presumably killed its three occupants. (Enterprise photo — Jeff Platsky)

The following tragedy is one of the toughest of stories to cover, but it was well done by Enterprise reporter James M. Odato 41 years ago … along with great photos by Jeff Platsky.

When this old Enterprise fell into my hands a few days ago, I happened to receive a phone call from Mr. Odato simply looking for information … but with many columns of late, some little thing such as the phone call seem to connect the dots … more about that later.

“ELIZABETHTOWN — Four are dead, at least one person missing and presumed dead, and two U.S. bobsledders escaped drowning after Route 9N collapsed into the Bouquet River about three miles east of the village of Elizabethtown Monday evening.

“Hard hit by the strong winds and rain Monday, the village itself is in a state of emergency, and the Essex County Board of Supervisors was to meet here today to discuss the disaster.

“Authorities on the scene, who began searching the raging Bouquet and its banks this morning, recovered and identified the bodies of four men who were in vehicles swept into the raging river. The dead included Dr. Thomas Tannenberger, a Westport veterinarian and athlete involved with the Saranac Lake Mountaineer Rugby Club and a candidate for the U.S. Olympic Bobsled team.

A 75-yard section of state Route 9N was washed away as a result of the torrents of rain. This is the spot where four vehicles plunged into the rushing waters. The destructive force of the water could be seen in three sections of the road leading from Elizabethtown to Keene Valley. (Enterprise photo — Jeff Platsky)

“The man known to be missing is Ludwig Huttig, 56, operator of Adirondack Motors of Elizabethtown. [A person familiar with the accident who did not want to be identified — thanks, Leslie — told me this week that the body of Mr. Huttig was found about two days after the accident.] The bodies of Steven Daniels, 18, of Westport and Kevin Doyle, 15, of Elizabethtown, have been found.

“Apparently these three slid to their death as they returned from a basketball game between Elizabethtown and Keene Valley. Also found dead was Wayne Fennmore, 28, of Elizabethtown.

“Tannenberger operated a car which plunged into a 200 by 25-foot-deep hole which opened on Route 9N and became part of the overflowing Bouquet about 7 p.m. Monday. Passengers of the doctor were fellow Olympic bobsled candidates. Peter Frisbie, 30, Westport and Tim Marvin, 32, of Elizabethtown. Both were treated at Elizabethtown Hospital for cuts.

“Nancy, Doctor Tannenberger’s secretary, said today; ‘They thought they were driving into a mud hole and it turned out to be a canyon’, describing what she believed happened Monday night.

“Daniels and Fennmore also drove their cars into the hole. Huttig and Doyle were apparently passengers in the Daniels car. [There is some confusion here because the caption under the photo of the wrecked truck identifies the truck as belonging to Mr. Huttig.]

A 15-foot section of the bridge was also washed away. (Enterprise photo — Jeff Platsky)

“State police and sheriff’s department personnel and rescuers this morning found the first body, Fennmore’s, at about 7 p.m. on the river’s bank near the cave-in. Dr. Tannenberger’s car was found some two miles from the scene in the Village of Elizabethtown.

“‘I’d call it a disaster,’ Highway Superintendent Arthur Norton said today. ‘The village is pretty well totaled. Stores, the little Tavern, the Printer’s Shop are all damaged. It’s going to be a long while before they open again.’

“He said he believed the village drinking supply, fed from surface springs, was polluted and residents were being told to boil water before drinking.

“Mrs. Earl Frisbie, mother of the bobsled candidate, said her son was recovering in the hospital after receiving several stitches under his chin.

“‘I’m washing his clothes right now, and there’s about a ton of sand and gravel in them,’ she said, relieved her son had escaped death.

“‘Josie Hurley, who has lived along the Bouquet for some 57 years, said this morning, ‘We heard a snap as if somebody had hit the abutment.’

“Denton Publications which publishes the newspaper in Elizabethtown, located on Main Street along the Bouquet River, had some four feet of water damaged equipment and supplies on the first floor. William Denton, publisher, said he and eight of his employees were trapped in the loft and were rescued by use of a human chain.

“Authorities were to continue searching the river today. They were not sure how many more victims there would be.”

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