YACHATS — The Oregon Department of Transportation has announced that a section of Highway 101 at milepost 170.5, approximately 2.5 miles south of Cape Perpetua, will be closed from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. for two weeks beginning today (Feb. 17) to reinforce a section of the highway where a piece of large construction equipment tumbled over the west side of the heavily traveled road last Friday.
The incident occurred during work to repair a historic section of retaining wall. On Feb. 12, the northern half of the wall collapsed, bringing down a large portion of the road on which a drilling rig for GeoStabilization International was operating. The rig, along with its operator, fell approximately 150 feet to the rocks below.
Members of Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue and Western Lane Ambulance District responded to the emergency and remained on scene to provide support, said Fire and EMS Chief Michael Schick.
“We responded to ensure emergency personnel were on scene,” Schick said. “At the time, it was unknown if the vehicle was occupied. It was then updated to one occupant in the excavator.”
However, Schick said when emergency responders arrived on scene, the operator was sitting in a truck on Highway 101.
“He was conscious when placed into the ambulance, and I haven’t received an update on his injuries,” said Schick, who at the time of the incident said he didn’t know how the operator got from the bottom of the cliff back up to the highway.
The rescue was the result of some quick thinking from bystanders who had been driving along the winding stretch of the highway when the collapse occurred.
Gabrielle Colton, a Florence-area photographer, was passing the accident and joined in the impromptu rescue effort.
“I was on the way to Devils Churn Friday to photograph an elopement when we pulled up right after the crane had fallen over the cliff,” said Colton. “The car in front of us had witnessed the accident; we had just missed it.”
According to Colton, the occupants in the car ahead of hers began running to the line of cars that had become backed up in order to get others to help pull the operator to safety from below.
“He miraculously survived and crawled out of the machine that had landed on the rocks just above the ocean,” said Colton. “We got out and helped unravel the very tangled rope to let it down so that he could tie it around himself.”
From there, rescuers were able to pull him up.
“It took about 12 people to pull him up from the side of the cliff. There was no (cell) service, and it took a while for someone to call 911,” Colton said. She and the group were able to successfully bring the operator back up to safety after about 20 minutes. It was shortly after that that emergency responders arrived.
“When the man finally made it to the road, he was smiling and looked thrilled to be alive and was thankful for our efforts,” Colton said.
A crack in this particular section of Highway 101 was first reported in January. Monitoring found that it was becoming larger because the containment wall was failing and an immediate repair was required. The northbound lane is built on bedrock and is stable. The southbound lane was built on fill, which relies on a retaining wall to remain in place.
During the two-week road closure, traffic will be flagged through the project area in the northbound lane. Work will not be done at night because of safety concerns and the need for full visibility.
Road status information boards will be placed on Highway 101 at Newport, Waldport and Florence, and also on Highway 126 coming into Florence from the east.
Once the repair project is complete, the road will close completely for several days in order for the drill rig to be recovered from the rocks below. A 200-ton crane will block the entire road and there will be no access through, day or night.
Travelers should expect closures or extended delays in the area for the next few weeks. Check TripCheck.com or call 5-1-1 for the current road status.