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Engineer: Monument Rappel Inspection A Career High

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WASHINGTON (AP) — An engineer who is part of a four-member team inspecting the exterior of the Washington Monument said Thursday that the job is the highlight of her career.

Emma Cardini and her “difficult access team” began inspecting the 555-foot monument on Wednesday for damage caused by last month’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake. The team climbed from a hatch and observation windows at the top of the monument and used ropes and harnesses to slowly work their way up and down the monument’s pyramid-shaped cap.

“I was so excited. I was waiting and waiting the last two and a half days,” she said about being able to start the job.

On Thursday, the team members began climbing out the windows of the monument around 10:30 a.m. to resume their inspection.

Dan Lemieux, a manager of the monument project, said team members pulled off two dictionary-sized chunks of marble from the top of the monument that were loosened by the quake. The pieces weighed more than ten pounds and were larger than what the team expected to remove from the structure, he said, noting that visitors would have been endangered if a chunk that big fell.

Cardini said she became hooked on the line of work after her first climb of the Bank of America building in Providence, R.I., six years ago. The Melrose, Mass., resident said that working on the Washington Monument is by far the most exciting job she’s had so far, and that she appreciates the view from the monument’s observation deck.

“It’s really cool to see the planes flying under you,” she said.

But Cardini said she doesn’t do any sightseeing once she gets out onto the monument.

“The only thing I’m looking at is the stone in front of me,” she said.

During the daredevil inspection, which is expected to last several days, the climbers will work their way up and down the
sides of the entire monument, snap photos with a digital camera and tap the stones with a soft mallet, listening for indications of damage. They also have masonry tools to remove loose stone or mortar. Each is also carrying a two-way radio and an iPad loaded with drawings and data from the 1999 restoration of the monument.

Cardini said she receives annual training with her company — the engineering firm Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates Inc. of
Northbrook, Ill. — as well as with the Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians. She also recently completed a training course for international certification.

So far, she’s rappelled down columns on Panama’s Bridge of the Americas, dangled from rope inside the Old South Church in Boston and inspected the Gothic spires at the top of Chicago’s Tribune Tower.

“There must be something wrong with my inner ear,” the 32-year-old said, explaining that she has no fear of heights.

She said she and the team were impressed with the original construction of the Washington Monument, which was built between 1848 and 1884.

Cardini said: “For an engineer, it’s like Disney World.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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