By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune
A Nevada resident’s borrowed pickup plummeted hundreds of feet over a cliff near the interpretive center on the Beartooth Pass last month. Now, the driver faces a six-digit bill to have the vehicle removed.
The 50-year-old woman was driving a Toyota truck with a manual transmission that she’d borrowed from her father, said Travis Haworth, a federal law enforcement officer with the Shoshone National Forest.
As she arrived near the interpretive center parking lot along the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) on Aug. 16, she pulled to the left side of the road. She parked and jumped out for some photos of the iconic elevation sign and surrounding views, Haworth said. As she stepped away, the truck began to roll.
“It’s unclear as to whether there was an equipment failure, or if it was just an operator error,” Haworth said.
The truck rolled across a field through one of the only areas clear of large rocks to make it to the steep cliffs. The truck then plunged hundreds of feet to the bottom of the ravine, hitting two or three times as it fell and leaving several debris fields.
“It’s just incredible to me that there was enough grade there to, you know, cause that vehicle to roll like it did,” Haworth said.
The driver, whose name is not being made public at this time, got a ride after the vehicle was lost. She later contacted the sheriff in Carbon County,Montana, hoping some of her belongings could be retrieved from the truck. From there she was directed to contact the Forest Service.
She called the Beartooth Ranger District in Red Lodge and they forwarded an incorrect mile marker to a Montana law enforcement agency. After it was determined the accident actually happened on the Wyoming side of the pass, the information was then sent to Haworth for the investigation.
“It’s incredible — just the lack of notification. I think she tried,” Haworth said, adding, “I find it a little bit remarkable that the Shoshone National Forest was the last to know.”
When the Tribune heard rumors of the crash last month, a reporter began making phone calls to multiple agencies, ultimately being referred to the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
Patrol Lt. Lee Pence reported then that, although there was a report of a vehicle going off a cliff, “there was nothing found up there — no vehicle over the mountain or stranded driver.”
That led to an ultimately inaccurate Aug. 27 story saying the reports of a vehicle plummeting off a cliff in the Beartooths was less fact than fiction.
Cody Regional Health
However, Pence later followed up to say that new information had surfaced and the Shoshone was investigating; Haworth confirmed in an interview last week that there was indeed an accident. He called it all “an incredible comedy of errors, in my humble opinion.”
Finding the wreckage was a task. You can’t see the vehicle from the highway and Haworth had to hike to find a spot where he could view the bottom of the cliff and confirm the accident actually happened.
Haworth called the woman and alerted her that the truck and the debris fields would need to be removed. “You can’t abandon property on the forest,” he said.
As Haworth worked with the insurance company associated with the vehicle, he learned it will most likely require at least one helicopter aerial crane and professional climbers to clean up the crash.
“Each helicopter has its own hourly fee. Some of those aircraft, like a sky crane, can be $150,000 to $200,000 bucks a day,” he said. “It’s an incredible amount of money when you start using aircraft.”
The salvage operation will have to wait until next year due to the weather. Even then, the high mountain pass can have snow or high winds year round — and planning the removal won’t be easy.
There is already ice building in the area and the pass was closed over the weekend due to heavy snow. Haworth plans to hike to the vehicle to retrieve the owner’s property, but it will be a long trip and he hasn’t yet been able to schedule it.
Haworth is in the Beartooth Range through the winter, patrolling by snowmobile, and thinks it may be possible to get closer to the scene on Glacier Lake Road, on the Montana side of the pass.
No matter how the clean-up works out, it will be expensive.
“It’s not my favorite law enforcement to pursue. Because the reality is, who has that type of [insurance] policy for recovery?” Haworth said. “But it’s such a pristine area there, Its got to get done.”