Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thinking of Garrett, 35W bridge survivor August 1, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:22 PM

Two years ago today, Garrett Ebling missed his turn onto Interstate 94 and ended up on the 35W bridge. Half way across the span, his red Ford Focus began shaking and then nosedived some 60 feet into the Mississippi River as the bridge collapsed.

He survived. Thirteen others did not.

August 1, 2007—a day that shook Minnesotans to the core, that forever changed lives, made us rethink how we thought, where we drove, how we lived our lives.

For me, the tragedy became more than an event involving unknown faces. I knew Garrett, not personally, but as the former editor of The Faribault Daily News. We had communicated several times after my son was struck by a hit-and-run driver. I remembered the compassion Garrett showed to me and my family then.

As I followed the bridge collapse stories, my attention remained on Garrett. I wanted to know how he was doing. And I wanted to write his story. So I emailed Garrett and asked if I could interview him for an article that would publish in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.

I expected a “no.” I got a “yes.” Mine was one of only a few interviews Garrett granted and I was honored to share his story. I also talked to his rescuer, Rick Kraft of West St. Paul, and to his then fiancée Sonja Birkeland of White Bear Lake. Because Garrett’s jaw was wired shut, or the wires had just been removed (I can’t recall which), the interview was done via email.

His story of rescue, of being pulled from his submerged car, was a powerful one. His injuries countless—a ripped diaphragm, bruised and semi-collapsed lungs, broken ankles, a broken arm, severed colon and abdominal wall, severe facial trauma…

That Garrett survived was nothing less than a miracle.

What most impressed me was this survivor’s incredibly positive attitude and strong faith. “There definitely must be a reason why God decided to keep me alive,” Garrett wrote. “I want to live in a way that fulfills whatever mission has been laid out for me.”

Today Garrett still struggles. I checked his Caring Bridge website today and read about his ongoing problems with balance and ankle soreness and his lost sense of smell. He deals with emotional issues and memory loss.

But I also read words penned by a strong and determined Garrett—the guy who has overcome so much, the man who married the woman he loved on August 3, 2008, one year and two days after the bridge fell. He just recently bought his first house.

Garrett has shown us all what it means to be strong and trusting and patient and grateful and determined.


Fishing, flowers and farming, Rice County, MN.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:20 PM
Almost time to make hay, near Cedar Lake

Almost time to make hay, near Cedar Lake

Virgil's lilies, Wetaota Gardens, Cedar Lake

Virgil's lilies, Wetaota Gardens, Cedar Lake

Country retreat, Kelly Lake

Country retreat, French Lake

Water lily on Cedar Lake

Water lily on Cedar Lake

Gone fishing, Kelly Lake

Gone fishing, Kelly Lake