Digest>Archives> May 2000

Disaster hits St. George Reef

Top of lighthouse destroyed

By Timothy Harrison


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Constructed between 1882 and 1892, the St. George ...
Photo by: Guy Towers

For preservationists, hope and months of hard work gave way to despair as they watched in horror as the lantern room of California's St. George Reef Lighthouse came crashing to the beach in Crescent City.

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The remains of the lantern room lay upside down ...
Photo by: Chuck Hayward

The lantern room was being transported by a California Air National Guard helicopter from the lighthouse six miles out in the ocean to the mainland for restoration. It was only seconds away from safety when the accident occurred.

Apparently they were supposed to come in at 500 feet, but came in slightly off course and too low. Spec. Paul Jorgenson, one of the crewmembers on the helicopter later told the local media, "The pilot can't see the load while we're in flight. I could see we were coming in too low and kept telling them to lift up." But it was too late. The 10,000 pound lantern room smashed into the beach, severing the cables that has secured it to the helicopter and sent the cables rocketing skyward. In the process much of lantern room was smashed to pieces leaving debris scattered over the beach and the dome of the lantern room laying upside down on the beach.

Before a crew could get organized to protect the pieces, some of the onlookers picked them up and left with them. With the help of a crane the severally damaged lantern room was brought to the nearby empty lot where it was originally scheduled to be restored.

Volunteers of the St. George Reef Lighthouse had earlier been transported to the ocean lighthouse courtesy of a United States Coast Guard helicopter to spend nearly an entire weekend at the lighthouse removing debris and readying the lantern room for its airlift to the mainland for restoration.

The California Air National Guard Aviation Support Facility in Stockton, Ca. donated the use of heavy-duty helicopter that is capable of carrying loads of up to 26,000 pounds. The lantern rooms weight was estimated at five tons.

Things did not go exactly as planned from the start. As the cast iron lantern room was being hoisted off the top of the tower for its journey to shore several of the steel frames broke off.

The St. George Reef Preservation Society, the group that is restoring the lighthouse did not insure the lantern room for transportation. They could not afford the $4000 insurance policy.

It was believed by some of the groups members that bringing the lantern room to shore would make the restoration a lot easier, as one member said, "the lighthouses is six miles out, we can't get in the car and just drive there to work on it."

Donations to help restore the lighthouse can be sent to:

St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society,

P.O. Box 62, Eureka, CA 95502.

This story appeared in the May 2000 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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