Dramatic Washington Monument descent begins
Architectural engineers have begun their dramatic descent from the top of the Washington Monument, crawling the face of the 555-foot-tall landmark looking for signs of earthquake damage.
Two of the engineers started out just after noon EDT, emerging from a hatch at the top of the structure, which ranks as the world's tallest obelisk. Engineer Emma Cardini is on the east face of the structure, while colleague Dan Gach is on the south-facing side.
Dan Lemieux, the lead engineer supervising the descent, said that five climbers in all would scour the four-sided monument in an effort to determine the extent of earthquake damage suffered in the magnitude 5.8 temblor that rocked the East Coast on Aug. 23. The quake was felt as far north as Boston and beyond.
The descent was scheduled to begin Tuesday but was postponed because of inclement weather. Earlier today, the threat of thunderstorms again appeared poised to scuttle the climb, but the day turned out to be gorgeous, with a slight breeze and bright sun. The climbers' gear and rigging is sparkling against the blue sky.
The sight of people lowering themselves on the face of the Washington Monument brought out both tourists and locals.
Navy Cmdr. Dan Truckenbrod took a break from his desk at the Pentagon to put in a noontime jog and catch a glimpse of the goings-on. "I came to see the crazies. You know, take pictures, say I was here. Hopefully, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Pam O'Hare and her husband Bob, from Ackley, Iowa, were among the onlookers. They stopped in Washington following a trip to Shenandoah National Park. While they were disappointed that the monument itself was closed, the O'Hares still have plenty to tell the folks back home.
"We probably would've waited in line to go up if it was open," Pam O'Hare said. "But to get pictures this unique to put on our screensaver at home is not something everyone gets to do -- especially not out in Iowa!"
The Washington Monument is considered a must-see for visitors to the nation's capital. On a normal day visitors can take a 70-second elevator ride to the observation deck 500 feet above the National Mall. For now, though, the monument remains closed indefinitely pending earthquake repairs, with visitors relegated to touring the monument's grounds.
-- Alexa Vaughn in Washington and Rene Lynch in Los Angeles
Photo: Workers rappel down and inspect the top of the Washington Monument. Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images