Three decades after a pickup rolled down the face of Rattlesnake Mountain, a helicopter plucked it from a steep ravine Tuesday.
The truck was parked at the top of Rattlesnake Mountain in the 1970s when it rolled away for unknown reasons, according to the Department of Energy. No one was inside it so there were no injuries, but the truck didn't fare so well.
"It was pretty well demolished," said Kurt Kehler, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. decommissioning and demolition vice president.
CH2M Hill was charged with removing the pickup as part of the environmental cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation, but ruled out using heavy equipment.
"The destruction to the hill under normal circumstances would have been pretty significant," Kehler said.
Heavy equipment would have had to be used to drag the truck either up or down the hill using a cable because the hillside is too steep to get ground equipment to where the truck was perched.
So the DOE contractor brought in a Sikorsky S-64 helicopter equipped with a remotely operated clamshell hanging from it. With the guidance of workers who hiked down to the wreck, the chopper clamped onto the truck and lifted it into the sky.
The helicopter set the truck down on an X marked on the ground on the lower portion of the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve. The entire operation took less than two hours.
Rattlesnake Mountain is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument's Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, which has been largely undisturbed by the public or Hanford work since the land was set aside as part of the buffer zone around the nuclear reservation during World War II. Rattlesnake Mountain also has long been used by area tribes, who consider it sacred.
DOE is cleaning up the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of work to reduce the active footprint of Hanford from 586 square miles to 75 square miles at the reservation's center. The work is being paid for with federal economic stimulus money.
A small Cold War military campus with barracks, a mess hall, administration building and latrine that was low on Rattlesnake Mountain already has been torn down.
More buildings stood at the top of the mountain and work continues to remove the last two of them. Communication towers have been consolidated, and some old radio towers will come down after they are released from use to the environmental cleanup program.
Hanford workers also have been removing trash piles, old tanks, piping, remnants of scientific experiments and abandoned fencing from the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve.