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A Look at the National Corvette Museum Sinkhole Disaster - Sinking Feeling

Early Morning Sinkhole Swallows Eight Rare Corvettes!

Walt Thurn Aug 1, 2014
Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Skydome 2/15

The sinkhole is on the west side of the sphere in the Skydome and measures 40 feet in diameter and 60 feet deep. Since the Skydome opened in August 1994, this arena has been filled with rare Corvettes and packed with visitors. It was a miracle the collapse took place at 5:39 a.m., February 12, when the museum was closed.

The National Corvette Museum (NCM) opened on September 2, 1994, originally occupying 63,000 square feet. The highlight of the new building was the dramatic yellow Skydome that was clearly visible from nearby Interstate 65. In 2009, an expansion increased the museum’s size to 110,000 square feet. During the last 20 years, thousands of visitors have wandered under the Skydome to inspect the historically significant Corvettes on display. That ended on February 12, 2014 at 5:39 a.m., when the museum’s security system alerted NCM employee Betty Hardison of an event inside the building. When the staff arrived, the building was filled with smoke. They called the fire department who quickly located the source. It was a 40-foot-wide hole in the Skydome floor! Deep within the hole a ZR1 was discovered sitting on top of a pile of rocks and debris. Other Corvettes could also be seen. In total, eight Corvettes fell into the abyss.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Mike Murphy 3/15

Mike Murphy, CEO of Scott, Murphy & Daniel Construction Company briefs the media after the sinkhole occurred. His company is serving as the construction manager for the Skydome repair. National Corvette Museum Executive Director Wendell Strode is in the background.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole News 4/15

The sinkhole event was newsworthy and was broadcast by media outlets around the world. Internet sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter also buzzed about this event. Over 6,000 radio and TV stories were aired between February 12 and April 23. To date, the brief video footage of the cars being swallowed has been viewed over 8 million times on YouTube.

Museum Executive Director Wendell Strode quickly arrived to assess the situation. When he discovered what had happened he turned to social media to inform the Corvette community. This spread the word and the news soon made the national headlines. Security footage of the collapse was shown around the world and media crews arrived to cover this milestone event. Wendell notified Scott, Murphy & Daniel Construction Company and Chubb Insurance to brief them on the incident. A news conference was held that afternoon to explain what happened. Two notable decisions were announced, Scott, Murphy & Daniel Construction was to oversee the repairs and GM would oversee the restoration of the Corvettes when they were removed. The first priority was to determine if the building was safe. Geologists inspected the entire museum and determined there were no other hidden voids underneath the floor. The other Corvettes that remained in the Skydome were removed so the building inspections and repairs could begin. Micropilings were installed around the outside perimeter of the Skydome to secure the structure. In addition, five micropilings that are at least 100-feet deep were added around the undamaged floor area of the sphere.

Once the building was deemed safe for the workers, heavy equipment was brought in to begin removing the Corvettes. On March 3, the ZR1 was the first to see daylight. Amazingly, it actually started and was driven out of the building! This was the only driveable Corvette that was retrieved. The damage worsened as the construction crew dug deeper. The Mallett Z06 was the last car to be removed, on April 9th, and it was completely destroyed. All eight were moved to the museum’s main exhibit hall and put on display. After the damaged Corvettes were inspected, Monte Doran, Corvette communications manager said, “GM’s goal is sensitive restoration to determine if they want us to restore all of the cars.” Monte will take part in the meetings with museum officials to make the correct restoration decisions on each car. Here is a summary of their inspection:

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Before 5/15

This is how the Skydome appeared prior to February 12. The yellow Lingenfelter ZR-1 on the lift in the background is where the cars fell through the floor.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Cars Before 6/15

The eight cars that fell through the floor can all be seen in this photo when they were displayed before the sinkhole opened on February 12. The number references the sequence that each car was removed from the bottom of the sinkhole. The ZR1 was first (#1); then the ’93 Ruby Red coupe (#2); the black ’62 was next (#3); the 1 millionth convertible; a ’92 model (#4); the ’84 PPG pace car (#5) underneath the Ruby coupe; the ’93 ZR-1 Spyder (#6); the 1.5 millionth convertible, an ’09 model (#7) underneath the Ruby coupe; and, lastly, the ’01 Mallett Hammer Z06 (#8).

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Opening 7/15

This is the scene the museum staff found when they entered the Skydome on February 12. It is amazing that the sphere did not collapse on top of the cars, as there does not appear to be any structure underneath supporting it.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Cars After 8/15

A sky crane was used to take this overhead photo of how the cars are positioned in the hole. In spite of the 50-plus foot drop, the ZR1 appears to be the least damaged of the eight cars that fell into the void. The numbers show the position of each car before they were removed. The ZR1 is #1, the 40th coupe is #2, the ’62 is #3, the 1 millionth convertible is #4, and the PPG pace car is #5. The other three cars are buried under this pile.

Minimal Damage

  • 1962 Tuxedo Black Corvette Convertible
  • 2009 Jetstream Blue ZR1 Prototype (GM-owned)

Major Damage

  • 1984 PPG custom pace car
  • 1992 Arctic White 1 Millionth convertible
  • 1993 Ruby Red 40th Anniversary coupe
  • 2009 Arctic White 1.5 Millionth convertible

Possible non-repairable

  • 1993 ZR-1 Prototype Spyder (GM-owned)
  • 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Zr1 Rescue 9/15

On March 3, the ZR1 was the first car to be removed. The construction crew used professional rigging skills to safely lift the “Blue Devil.” This view gives you a good perspective of the size and location of the crane.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Crew Z06 10/15

On April 9, the last car was removed, the totally destroyed Mallett Hammer Z06. This car was found at the bottom of the sinkhole after the crew removed large boulders and dirt to extract the remains of this beautiful Corvette.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Cars Removed 11/15

This is the view with all of the Corvettes extracted from the sinkhole. The black void that runs horizontal in the photo is the entrance to an underground cave that was discovered during the extraction process.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Livestream Camera 12/15

When construction crews are not working, visitors are allowed to view the sinkhole in the Skydome. This is the entrance with a photo collage to give visitors a preview of what they will see. The entrance door is to the left and each person must sign a waiver before they enter. Special tours can be arranged during the weekends.

On a positive note, museum spokeswomen Katie Frassinelli reports that nobody was injured and the sinkhole exhibits are popular. Attendance was up 50 percent in March and continues to be strong while the museum donations continue to increase. As construction continues, museum officials have not yet decided on how to deal with the sinkhole in the future. Opinions differ. Some think the hole should be filled in while others want to secure it and build stairs for visitors to walk down into it. One board member, artist Dana Forrester, would like to build a bridge over the hole so visitors can safely inspect it. “It is now part of our museum’s history. Millions of people in the Corvette culture have pulled together over this. Now, more people outside the community are discovering how special this culture really is.” As this story continues to evolve, Team VETTE will bring you updates on the museum’s progress. The National Corvette Museum is an important treasure that needs to be correctly restored so future visitors can continue to explore our rich Corvette history.

Read the UPDATE to NCM's plan for the sinkhole

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Construction 13/15

This is how close visitors are allowed get when they want to inspect the sinkhole. The wood barricades in the back are only for the construction crews. Visitors are not allowed into this area.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Micropilings 14/15

The concrete floor was removed so micropilings could be inserted. The sphere was secured to the micropilings to provide the structure with stability. Micropilings were also installed around the outside of the Skydome to provide it with additional support.

Ncm Corvette Sinkhole Outside 15/15

Outside the museum it was business as usual. These Corvette owners appear to be very comfortable washing their rides near the crippled Skydome.



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