Good Samaritans respond during highway collapse near Yachats

Travelers on Highway 101 joined in the Feb. 12 rescue of a GeoStabilization International employee who fell 150 feet down a cliff on Highway 101. The man is considered in stable condition. (Photos by Gabrielle Colton)

Efforts result in rescue of drill operator

Feb. 17, 2021 — The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has announced Highway 101, at milepost 170.5, approximately 2.5 miles south of Cape Perpetua, will be closed beginning today, Feb. 17, to reinforce a section of the highway where piece of large construction equipment tumbled over the west side of the heavily traveled road on Feb. 12.

The incident occurred during work to repair a historic section of retaining wall. On Friday, 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 (SVFR) and Western Lane Ambulance District (WLAD) responded to the emergency and remained on scene to provide support.

“We responded to ensure emergency personnel were on scene,” said Fire and EMS Chief Michael Schick. “At the time, it was unknown if the vehicle was occupied. It was then updated to one occupant in the excavator.”

However, Schick said that when 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 a very tangled rope to let it down so that he could tie it around himself.”

From there, the 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,” said Colton who, along with the group, was able to successfully bring the operator back up to safety after about 20 minutes.

It was shortly after 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. 

Today’s road closure, which will begin at 8 a.m., will be on Highway 101 between Sea Lion Caves and Cooks Chasm, south of Yachats and north of Florence.

Local traffic will have access beyond the closures on either side of the project, but there will be no through traffic at any time.

According to Angela Beers Seydel, Public Information Officer for ODOT, “Travelers should expect closures or extended delays in the area for the next few weeks as crews build a new retaining wall to hold the road in place.”

After work is completed, there will be access through the project area on a single lane with flaggers controlling traffic — but travelers should expect extended delays for an additional week.

Once the repair project is complete, the road will again be closed for several days for the drill rig to be recovered from the rocks below using a 200-ton crane, which will block the entire road.

For more information on the status of the impacted area on Highway 101, check or call 5-1-1 for the current road status.

Travelers on Highway 101 joined in the Feb. 12 rescue of a GeoStabilization International employee who fell 150 feet down a cliff on Highway 101. The man is considered in stable condition. (Photos by Gabrielle Colton)