The crash happened on the A595 at Bolton Low Houses yesterday. The two vehicles were travelling in opposite directions.
The 45-year-old van driver, from the Cockermouth area, was treated at the scene before being taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
His 14-year-old son, who was a passenger in the van, and the crane unit driver were not hurt.
Cumbria Police praised the actions of passers-by, including two off-duty police officers and a nurse, who provided first aid before emergency services arrived.
The road was closed for more than four hours for investigations to be carried out.