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How to Salvage 8 Corvettes Swallowed by the National Corvette Museum Sinkhole

By | Published February 13, 2014

Security video, pictures, analysis of cause and how to recover

Most of you by now have heard about that freak natural disaster yesterday in the Bowling Green, KY site of the National Corvette Museum where a sinkhole developed under the 100 foot tall SkyDome. It swallowed 8 rare Corvettes, sending them deep underground to their doom like the Titanic hitting an iceberg.

It seemed like a large monster emerged from the deep and devoured these priceless cars as in Return of the Jedi, the giant Sarcoon, inhabiting the Great Pit of Carkoon. That creature occupied the bottom of a large sink hole devouring anything that came near it, and almost eating Luke, Han, and Chewbacca.

The whole disaster was caught on video!

Watch this 48 second video below, captured by a security camera inside the museum aimed at the Corvettes. It shows the sinkhole developing, and swallowing up the cars as they crash through the shattered foundation. About 8 seconds in, you can see all the cars shift downward a bit, an ominous sign of the impending catastrophe, and then at 35 seconds in, the hole opens up, swallowing 2 cars. The other 6 Corvettes fell in presumably after the video ends:

Before we go any further, this loss of 8 Corvette lives is a national tragedy. I am exercising my Executive Privilege and hereby announcing my Executive Order decreeing that all flags should be flown at half-mast until further notice.

The area around the Museum is filled with sinkholes and caves

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green Kentucky sits on a site around the corner from GM's Bowling Green Assembly Plant where the Corvettes are built. The museum is located just 12 miles from the Lost River Cave, and only 28 miles down the road from the Mammoth Cave National Park, which houses the largest known cave system in the world, with over 400 miles of mapped caves. I wonder how close these underground labyrinths get to the museum site.

You would have to be living in a cave, pun intended, if you did not know about the caves all over the place in that area. The caves and underground rivers make me suspicious if this had something to do with the formation of the sinkhole.

Was the museum built over a cave and they just didn't know it? My bet is the foundation slab was poured over what they thought was solid limestone bedrock, but maybe it was really the roof of a cave. Erosion by rain water seeping down and percolating through the limestone would be the most likely method for a cave roof to collapse.

Maybe there's more lost rivers underground that they don't know about. Here's an aerial shot of the museum property:

Corvette museum overview

What are the chances a sinkhole could develop there?

What blows my mind is when you look at the aerial photo of the museum property above with my arrow pointing to the dome location, what are the odds that a sinkhole opens up directly under the dome? Why didn't it open up just 100 feet to the west or 100 feet to the south where it would be harmlessly out of the way on the grassy area, and now all you have is just another pretty lake?

Speaking of lakes, I am a bit suspicious about that lake right next to the dome, which looks like it too might be a previously formed sinkhole when you look at ground level photos of the property. The lake itself looks to be about 50 below the level ground of the museum, as though it's a retention pond crater.

Here are a couple of photos inside the dome released by the museum of the damaged cars:

Corvette museum image 1 Corvette museum image 2

With all the thousands of square miles of land in the United States, according to my conspiracy theory, someone targeted and took aim, planning for this sinkhole to open up in a 40 foot wide target in the center of a room that just happened to be filled with the most expensive Corvette collection in the country. That narrow 40 foot wide cone of probability could have manifested itself anywhere in America, yet it targeted this small domed room.

The sinkhole could have opened up anywhere but instead it chose right under the center of the dome, directly underneath where these 8 rare Corvettes were on display, minding their own business. This reminds me of one of Murphy's laws that states the chances of your toast falling with the jelly side down are directly proportional to the cost of your carpet.

Why did it have to happen there? Why couldn't it strike the Ford Pinto museum instead, or one of Bernie Madoff's properties? I am also wondering if maybe the weight of that huge 100 foot tall metal Skydome might have been a factor in putting a lot of downward force onto the ground, and crushing the thin hollow surface shell of an unknown cavity that had been supporting the entire structure.

Engineers brought in the drone helicopter for video close-ups

Here's where this wild story suddenly turns into James Cameron Titanic cool. Check out this 2 minute video below. Western Kentucky University's Engineering Department brought in this helicopter drone equipped with a high definition camera that flew down deep into the sinkhole and shot some awesome video of the damaged cars. It looks to me like little Hot Wheels cars in a kid's sandbox, very surreal:

Do we need to be worried about more sinkholes opening up?

It's funny they say the rest of the museum will still be open but the affected area of the dome will be closed. Now I don't want to start a panic, but isn't anyone remotely nervous about being anywhere near that area right now?

What else is percolating under the ground there? What about the GM factory across the street, should they have to worry? I daydream of a big UFO that will come out of the ground under the museum with Agent Mulder riding it to the surface.

Damage report, Scotty!

Here is a list of the Vettes that the museum said were swallowed up into the abyss:

The remaining six Corvettes are owned by the National Corvette Museum:

As you can imagine, some of these are extremely rare, and probably worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I'm sure they are all worth more than my car.

You can bet the insurance won't cover them either. The insurance company probably has all sorts of "acts of God" exclusions and weasel clauses to get out of paying. Sinkhole damage was probably not on anyone's radar when insurance was purchased, but we'll have to wait and hear from them as the recovery moves on.

How will they recover the fallen Corvettes? Are they worth saving?

Everyone is asking how they would get even try to recover these 8 cars up out of the bowels of the earth. Like Cliff Claven, I happen to be a bit of an expert at removing cars from sinkholes! Yeah, right.

Well I still have a few ideas on how to salvage these vehicles. I hope you folks at the National Corvette Museum are reading this and remember I get full credit once the cars are rescued.

Salvage idea #1

You bring in a 40 or 60 foot boom crane. You might have to remove some panels off the dome to accommodate the crane and park it near the sinkhole, with the floor shored up underneath with I-beams. Boom cranes can typically handle loads of 8,000 pounds or more.

We rented a crane last summer to have a giant 4000 lb. diesel generator lifted out of a fenced in area, very effective. You would also bring in a giant air bag like the Hollywood stunt people use, so that when the crane is dangling the car vertically, you can gently set it down on the airbag, let the car rotate horizontally, and deflate the bag in a controlled manner.

Salvage idea #2

You bring in a two boom cranes, and each one holds one end of a giant hammock that is placed under the car so that it can be lifted out horizontally. Then the cranes slowly swivel around and set the car down gently on the floor.

Salvage idea #3

You bring in one aforementioned boom crane, and lower a long metal ramp down the sinkhole. You attach the car to the boom, and slowly drag it up out of the crater up the ramp. You let the ramp with the Corvette gently lower down horizontally to the floor.

Once you recover the cars, there are many automotive restoration experts, body shops, and mechanics who I am sure will donate their time and shop space to restore these classic beauties, like it never happened. Just look at the miracles they pull off at Jay Leno's Garage.

In the meantime, let's hope the Force is with us, and our friend the giant Sarcoon has gotten his fill and will not be hungry for more cars any time soon. Hopefully he has moved on, taking his action over to the Ford Pinto Museum.

Now It's Your Turn:

Do you think they should try to recover these fallen Vettes, or should they be permanently entombed? Please leave your comments below.

Author Jeff Ostroff

About The Author: Jeff Ostroff is a consumer advocate, Founding Editor and CEO of CarBuyingTips.com overseeing a team of expert authors. For over 17 years, he's been the recognized authority on car buying, leasing, used cars and financing. He developed sophisticated spreadsheet tools to help consumers negotiate on a level playing field. He is a widely sought out guru, cited by the press for his expertise in savvy car buying and preventing consumer scams. Jeff has been quoted in CNN, Bloomberg, MSNBC, Wall street Journal, Consumer Reports, NY Times, Reader's Digest, and many live call in radio shows. He has covered the automotive space since 1997. Jeff also has extensive experience and expertise in selling used cars for clients on eBay and Craigslist. Connect with Jeff via Email, Twitter or on Google+.

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