You are here

The Rest of the Story – Tricky Clean-up at Crater Lake National Park After Car Goes Over the Edge


Here's what's left of part of the car after its plunge over the edge. (Bottom photo): Removing most of the debris required some fine flying skills. NPS photos.

Earlier this month the Traveler reported on a car that went over the edge of the caldera at Crater Lake National Park. The vehicle was destroyed by the 1,100-foot fall, and the park was faced with a challenging clean-up before the snow flies. Here's an update, and there's more to the story: in an amazing coincidence, this accident has something in common with a similar event from the distant past.

The good news from this incident is that all of the occupants of the vehicle were safe—including Haley the dog, the Dingo-Akita mix that some who followed the story dubbed "Lucky." Although the two humans involved in the situation had gotten out of the car at an overlook to enjoy the view, Haley was still aboard when the driver-less car rolled over the edge.

One look at the accompanying photo of what's left of the car confirms that it's fortunate Haley was ejected through the vehicle's sun roof early in the unplanned ride, and the dog managed to scramble 600 feet back to the top with only minor injuries.

Unfortunately for the park staff faced with how to clean up the mess, that big chunk of mangled metal wasn't all that remained after the crash, and parts of the vehicle were scattered along the 1,100-foot path down the caldera wall.

Winter comes early and stays late at Crater Lake, and the quickly approaching fall rain and snow added urgency to the task of removing the debris. The combination of the steep slope, loose rock and long distance between rim and lake made this salvage job anything but routine. Just "leave it be" isn't an option; not only is the junk unsightly, but there was concern runoff from the rain and snow would wash any remaining debris into the water, where it would be difficult or impossible to retrieve.

So, how's it going?

Phase one of the clean-up involved helicopter operations, and that work went smoothly. Marsha McCabe, the park's public information officer, said a helicopter from Swanson Group Aviation in Grants Pass, Oregon, hauled out two rigged loads of debris and mangled car parts. The skilled helicopter pilot was also able to use a grappling hook to extract some of the larger items scattered along the caldera wall such as a seat, bumper, and muffler. It's estimated the operation removed about 80 to 90 percent of the remains of the 2003 Volkswagen Passat.

Phase two of the operation will most likely require technical climbing to retrieve the smaller pieces of debris still scattered all along the path the vehicle followed on its tumble to the lakeshore. Park officials plan to conduct an operational safety review to determine how best to proceed. They point out that "protecting the pristine nature of the lake and ensuring the safety of personnel are the highest priorities."

According to McCabe, the last auto mishap of this magnitude occurred in October 1922 when a brand new Lincoln rolled over the rim near the present day location of the Sinnott Memorial Overlook in Rim Village, and that incident was definitely a close call.

A history of the park compiled by former rangers Larry and Lloyd Smith notes that shortly before the 1922 accident, the people with that car had removed their baby from the vehicle … because it was crying. The owner of the Lincoln was a barber from Klamath Falls, Oregon, whose last name was Swanson.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. In a bizarre coincidence, one of the occupants of 2003 Passat involved in this month's incident was also named... Swanson.

If your name happens to be Swanson and you decide to visit Crater Lake in the future, perhaps you'd do the park and yourself a favor, and be just a bit more cautious than usual whenever you're near the rim.


A very comprehensive article, makes one completely informed about the topic in hand. A really good effort by the Park management, and the dog is indeed "lucky"!! Good to hear that no one was injured, thought the incident clearly advocates the need for taking the utmost care while on trips.

maybe they should screen for people named "Swanson" at the entrance? Or post a sign in that area saying that if your last name is Swanson and your car goes over, you're liable for all clean up costs? Just a thought...


Well, in fairness to the Swanson clan, in this month's accident the car didn't belong to Mr. Swanson; he was just a friend traveling with the owner of the VW. The unlikely connection of the names to both situations was just too good to miss for a little tongue-in-cheek comment, though. What are the odds??

Really folks - isn't the amount of "contaminant" that could run the equivalent to a "drop in the bucket" given the size of Crater Lake?

I heard they quoted the dog after the rescue as saying: "That's Swan small step for dog, one Swan leap for dog-kind."

If you were aware of just HOW pristine the water at Crater Lake is, you would NOT question the concern for the "small amount" of contaminant involved. ANY amount is a diasaster in as clean an environment as Crater Lake offers!!!

William E Hardy:
If you were aware of just HOW pristine the water at Crater Lake is, you would NOT question the concern for the "small amount" of contaminant involved. ANY amount is a diasaster in as clean an environment as Crater Lake offers!!!

There's already lots of runoff that contains contaminants. I'd be surprised if there weren't cars leaking oil that gets carried off by precipitation. Perhaps a big concern would be the fuel. Vehicle exhaust can also be pretty nasty, and a lot of that ends up dissolved in the water.

I'd like to know who pays the bill for the clean up. The Park Service, meaning U.S. taxpayers, or the driver's insurance?

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide