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What We Can All Learn From A Fatal Off-Road Recovery

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What We Can All Learn From A Fatal Off-Road Recovery
What We Can All Learn From A Fatal Off-Road Recovery

One of the proud traditions among off-roaders, from the hardcore to the more casual enthusiasts, is to always help others who are stuck on a trail. While that’s an ideal we absolutely endorse, especially because one day you might be the one in need of recovery help, safety should always be a priority in every recovery effort. Sadly, an Arizona father killed in an accident while he was trying to help some people stuck in the mud serves a valuable lesson we should all learn.

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Back on July 26, 2022 Ryan Woods was off-roading with his wife and kids in the Kingman area where they lived. One would assume he was fairly familiar with the local conditions, but when he ran across some people who were stuck in the mud, he didn’t hesitate to help them get out.

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In the process, Woods’ Ford Super Duty also became stuck. For anyone familiar with how difficult mud in Arizona becomes during monsoon season, combined with the weight of a big pickup, you can understand how difficult extracting such a vehicle can be.

Unphased, Woods called a friend for help. It likely wasn’t the first time he’d been in such a predicament since his family says he was a big off-roader. The friend who helped is described in the GoFundMe campaign as an “off roader, racer, and mechanic” so he wasn’t just some slouch.

However, Woods and his friend made a fateful decision as they prepared to overcome the extreme suction keeping the big truck from moving. After a chain failed using the recovery hooks on the bumper, Woods used a tow strap attached a drop hitch with a tow ball on the end.

You might not realize it, but that’s not a safe recovery point. Hitches and tow balls are designed for pulling trailers, not pulling vehicles out of the mud. The forces on that drop hitch were too great and it sheared, the rest of the hitch and heavy tow ball rocketing through the windshield and right into Woods.

In the photos shared for the GoFundMe campaign, you can see the steering wheel was deformed from the impact, giving you an idea of just how fast the hitch and ball were traveling as they punched through the safety glass.

We’ve seen steel winch cables do the same thing, which is one of the reasons why some off-roaders prefer synthetic rope. Others drape a safety blanket at the midpoint to prevent a snapped line from becoming a life-ending whip. This is also why professional off-road recovery crews often use soft shackles and kinetic ropes because if those fail, the present zero lethality to anyone.

Woods leaves behind a wife and three children, two under the age of 18. While the GoFundMe campaign exceeded the $15,000 goal it won’t replace the husband and father. Many have hopefully learned a lifesaving lesson from this fatal accident, but we think it bears repeating over and over because people forget or perhaps missed this tragedy back when it happened. If you’re going to hit trails, either bring off-road recovery gear or call a professional if you or someone else gets stuck.

Images via GoFundMe