Deep sinkhole appears in man's yard

Al Schultz peers down a sinkhole on July 4, 2014, while his granddaughter Keirra watches from the driveway. The hole appeared in the front of his home in the Gold Hill area of Fairbanks. Schultz estimates the hole is about 70 to 80 feet deep. 

FAIRBANKS—A Gold Hill resident got a nasty surprise after returning from vacation this week when he discovered a sinkhole diving to depths of a stomach-churning 70 to 80 feet in his front yard.

Al Schultz on Friday had cordoned off the roughly 4-foot wide hole that appeared in a roadside ditch and covered the opening with wood planks. Schultz didn't have a clear solution to the problem.

"I called about three excavation companies and with the holiday got one to come out and look at it," he said. "We tied a truck hitch to his rope and threw it down there."

But the contractor's rope was too short and the hitch dangled somewhere down the hole, Schultz said. To reach the bottom, Schultz tied another length of rope to the contractors' rope.

They measured 82 feet.

But just what it looked like down there, they didn't know, and Schultz couldn't get a quote for the fix at the time.

"I'm worried about standing here, we don't know if it doesn't open up to a cavern below," he said, standing in his driveway a good 15 feet from the opening.

Demonstrating to the News-Miner on Friday, Schultz tossed a rock down the sinkhole and what seemed like about three seconds passed before a thud was heard at the bottom.

After a quick offer and a rope tied around a News-Miner reporter's waist, a camera with a flashlight was lowered down into the sinkhole.

The light from a small LED flashlight on a camera completely disappeared into the hazy dark depths of the sinkhole before coming to rest on the bottom.

Schultz then laid out the rope and with the help of neighbor Fred Kameroff counted out 72 feet.

As far as the disparity in depth with what he measured with the contractor, Schultz wondered if there was a shelf the camera might have got caught on.

A review of the video in Schultz's driveway didn't reveal much other than that the muddy walls of the sinkhole appeared to be mostly smooth and the same width the whole way down, without any apparent presence of caverns or shafts leading off.

"I thought it was 20 to 30 feet maybe," Schultz said, clearly conscious of his footing and distance to the hole. "But this deep is a ways down there. That would hurt."

Schultz said he'll continue to keep cars and his 2-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter Keirra away from the sinkhole until he can get a more solid plan for repairs next week. He also said he will likely plan to approach the university because, after all, it's not every day that a sinkhole like this appears in a front yard.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.