Drilling rig rolls into home near Zephyr Cove | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Drilling rig rolls into home near Zephyr Cove

Gregory Crofton

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / A retaining wall along Highway 50 near Zephyr Cove gave way and sent a drilling rig into a home on Thursday. No one was injured.

Pavement underneath a several-ton drilling rig gave way Thursday, sending a long metal tower crashing into a home beneath U.S. Highway 50 next to Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center.

“We heard it this morning when it happened,” said Karen Smith of Dallas, who is renting a home near the one that was damaged in the mishap. “It was a big crushing noise with wood breaking.”

No one was inside the sizable caretaker’s residence at 678 Highway 50 when the rig toppled into it around 9:30 a.m. The rig operator, who declined to comment, escaped injuries after jumping out of the machine before it came down on the home.

Two bedrooms and a bathroom were smashed in the accident. The Nevada Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the construction project, positioned braces around the rig to ensure that it does not roll farther down hill and damage more homes.

Transportation officials said they planned to close the highway late Thursday night so they could safely remove the drilling rig with a crane.

“We’re doing the investigation right now,” said Dave Titzel, NDOT assistant district engineer. “We have a bridge engineer here and a geotechnical engineer driving here. We’ll figure out whose fault it is. But that’s not the important thing right now. We’re making sure everybody is safe and the area is safe.”

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The rig appeared to have toppled into the house after an old retaining wall gave way and a chunk of pavement as long as the base of the drilling rig broke from the side of the highway.

The rig operator had been waiting to start drilling holes when the accident happened. The holes were to be used to create pilings made with iron bar and cement to support a new wall, officials at the scene said.

“Obviously it failed,” said Nancy Kennedy, bridge engineer and project manager for NDOT. “It could have something to do with the drilling or the wall. Several things could be a factor.”

This is the third summer that NDOT has worked to replace metal retaining walls south of Cave Rock that support the highway and protect homes below it. The walls date to the late 1960s, Kennedy said.

Occupational Safety Hazard Administration officials were also investigating the accident.

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com