The museum is almost 20 years old.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — A sinkhole formed Wednesday under the National Corvette Museum here, swallowing eight cars, according to its executive director.
Sometime before 5:30 a.m. CT, the sinkhole started to form, authorities believe. By 5:44 a.m., motion detectors were going off and police were called, Executive Director Wendell Strode said. Security cameras at the museum (below) caught the destruction.
When emergency personnel got to the museum, they discovered a sinkhole 40 feet wide and 25 to 30 feet deep, Strode said.
"It's pretty significant," he said.
Of the eight cars that fell into the hole, the museum owned six and General Motors owned two. GM's Bowling Green Corvette plant, the only factory that builds Corvettes, is across a highway less than a half mile from the museum.
Cars involved in the incident, which occurred inside the museum's iconic spire called the Sky Dome, are these:
- 1962 black Corvette
- 1984 PPG pace car for the Indy 500
- 1992 white 1 millionth-built Corvette
- 1993 ruby red 40th anniversary Corvette
- 1993 ZR1 Spyder on loan from General Motors, a design study that was never built.
- 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 Corvette, a one-off tuner model.
- 2009 white 1.5 millionth-built Corvette.
- 2009 ZR1 "Blue Devil" on loan from General Motors, the show car for the re-introduction of the ZR1, last built in the early 1990s.
Staff were able to move 20 cars out of the Sky Dome later in the day after engineers determined that nothing was in danger of collapsing. Early in the day, Strobe said emergency personnel allowed museum staff to remove only one other car, the only surviving example of the "1983" Corvette. It had not fallen into the hole.
Andrea Hales, communications manager at the Bowling Green Corvette plant, said the Corvette was not produced in 1983. A six-month delay in the new generation created a model year gap. GM built about 40 prototype 1983s, which could not be sold, then built the production cars as 1984 models. It crushed all the 1983s except for the one given to the museum.
Hales added that the sinkhole had no effect on the nearby plant.
Bowling Green — about 60 miles northeast of Nashville and 100 miles southwest of Louisville — is at the edge of a karst region where caves, springs and sinkholes are common. The main entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park is about 30 miles northeast of the city, but that cave system has more than 400 miles that have been explored and covers more than 400 square miles, according to the National Park Service.
Engineers determined that the building did not sustain any structural damage since the sinkhole was in the middle of the Sky Dome, museum spokeswoman Katie Frassinelli said.
"The structure of the building is intact and it's fine," she said.
Museum spokesman Bob Bubnis said officials anticipate repairing the sinkhole damage but said no timetable or plans for the repairs have been set. Officials don't anticipate having to move to a new site.
A monetary estimate of damage done to the museum and the vehicles involved has not been determined yet.
The cause of the sinkhole at the Corvette museum has not been determined, but oftentimes this kind of hole is caused by caves that expand over time until the surface gives way, said Jason Polk, a professor of geology and geography at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Polk was part of the team investigating the cause and extent of the sink hole at the museum Wednesday.
"Eventually, the soil can't hold it," he said.
At this point, no other potential sinkholes appear to be threatening the rest of the museum, Polk said.
Butch Hume, president of Louisville's Falls City Corvette Club, cringed when he heard which cars were involved.
"I was stunned," he said. "What a terrible place for it to happen."
The Sky Dome houses the museum's primo cars, Hume said. When news of the sinkhole started to spread, club members inundated Hume's cellphone with text messages wanting to know what had happened.
"I think anybody who has a Corvette was stunned when they heard that," he said. "We're all feeling the same way: 'Oh man, that's a shame.' "
If the sinkhole had opened up later in the day when the museum was open, things could have been a lot worse, he said.
Within hours, Corvette aficionados started to offer assistance. Chuck McMurray, with Tamraz's Auto Parts in Plainfield, Ill., said his company is ready to jump in and help the museum find any original parts that might be needed to restore the damaged cars.
Calling the Corvette part of American history, McMurray said his company is ready to help.
"We have a warehouse full of really weird stuff that we've acquired over the last 50 years," he said.
The museum was open Wednesday, but the Sky Dome, in a separate building connected to the museum by a hallway, will be off limits for a while, Strode said.
"We'll try to get back to business as usual as soon as we can and keep moving forward," he said.