St. Petersburg, FL Ship Crashes Into "Sunshine Skyway" Bridge, May 1980


St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP) -- A 609-foot freighter rammed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at rush hour Friday tearing away a large section of the 15-mile span and sending a Greyhound bus plunging 140 feet into Tampa Bay. At least 31 persons were killed, the Coast Guard said.
Coast Guard spokesman RUSSELL WOODALL said a bus, two cars and a truck plunged into the bay.
He said there were reports that the bus landed on top of the cars in the water.
PHILLIP BIEBENDER, a Coast Guard spokesman in St. Petersburg said 17 bodies were recovered within hours after the freighter SUMMIT VENTURE hit the bridge.
He said some of the bodies were from a bus with 23 persons on board that was submerged in 20 feet of water.
About 300 feet of the one section of bridge, which crosses the main shipping channel in two separate spans for traffic in either direction, was knocked down. The collapsed section was 140 feet high.
One car was seen hanging over the edge of the torn bridge but its four occupants crawled to safety.
RICHARD HORNBUCKLE, 60, of St. Petersburg, driver of the car, said, "It was raining cats and dogs. It was dark. The wind was blowing like a hurricane."
"I was doing about 25 mph; the Greyhound bus passed me doing about 35. There was a stalled car in front. As I came to the very top of the bridge, I saw the resto of it was out. I applied my brakes immediately and stopped within 2 feet of going in. I bailed out and went back to stop other cars."
"We got all the other cars stopped. I looked down and saw my car with all four doors open. I figured the Lord was real good to the four of us."
Another witness, PETE KROSA, said, "It was an enormous ship. A whole section of the steel structure of the bridge has been just wiped out. Big steel girders collapsed."
PAUL MARINO of the Hillsborough County sheriffs office said the SUMMIT VENTURE was a Liberian-registered ship en route from Houston to pick up a load of phosphate in Tampa.
HORNBUCKLE, who works at an automobile dealership, said, "My God what a horrible thing. I think they ought to do something about the boat traffic here."
In late January, the Coast Guard Cutter BLACKTHORN sank in the same shipping channel but on the other side of the bridge after colliding with an oil tanker. Twenty-three Coast Guardsmen died.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer PAUL SCOTTI said authorities at first believed 90 persons may have drowned because they thought the bus was filled.
But ROBERT RODRIQUEZ, a local manager for Greyhound, said the bus was carrying 22 passengers and a driver.
RODRIQUEZ said the bus left St. Petersburg for Miami at 7:05 a.m. and did not arrive as scheduled in Bradenton, on the other side of the bay.
SCOTTI said one of the spans at the south end of the bridge, which soars over the mouth of Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Bradenton, was knocked out when hit by a ship at 7:38 a.m.
"There was a thundershower at the bridge at the time, and visibility was zero," SCOTTI said.
Sgt. JIM KELLEY of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Tampa said there had been a wreck on the bridge shortly before the ship hit.
"A (state) trooper was investigating an accident when it happened," said KELLEY. He said several sheriff's divers were sent to the scene to help in the rescue.
The Sunshine Skyway is a 15-mile bridge-causeway with twin roadbeds. It crosses Tampa Bay at St. Petersburg. The skyway is a system of twin bridges 864 feet long and four smaller bridges with six causeways.
Tug boats hauled the SUMMIT VENTURE out of the way, a large dent visible high on its starboard side.
The Coast Guard said one crew member of the freighter was pulled from the water and was being treated for undetermined injuries.

Waterloo Courier Iowa 1980-05-09



St. Petersburg, Fla., (AP) -- Divers shadowed by sharks attracted by the scent of blood called off their search for victims of the Sunshine Skyway bridge collapse late Saturday and said they'd try to life the wreckage with salvage barges. At least 30 people died in the accident.
"We made the decision to use the barges because of the dangerous situation with the vehicles twisted up," said Hillsborough County Sheriff WALTER HEINRICH.
"It's not just a matter of going in to get the victims out, some of them apparently are twisted in the steel," the sheriff said.
He said divers may have to cut the vehicles apart before they're lifted to the surface.
The Coast Guard, meanwhile, announced that the pilot who was steering the ship that hit the bridge Friday had been the pilot aboard another ship when it hit the structure in March.
Divers discovered the bumper of a car that was not among the three known to have plunged into Tampa Bay on Friday, but authorities said they were not sure how long the bumper had been in the water.
The discovery of the bumper fueled fears of a rising death toll from the accident that occured when a Liberian-registered phosphate ship knocked out 1,400 feet of the bridge's southbound span in a blinding storm during the morning rush hour. A Greyhound bus with 23 people aboard, three cars, and a pickup truck were known to have plummeted 140 feet into the murky green waters.
Late Saturday afternoon, the Coast Guard and Hillsborough County deputies announced they were unsure of exactly how many people died.
The Coast Guard said Friday 32 people had died. But Capt. MARSHALL GILBERT said Saturday that the Coast Guard was revising its death toll to 31 because of possible confusion in the body count. Hillsborough sheriff's spokesmen said police divers who had searched the area could account for only 30 bodies.
Eighteen bodies had been recovered by late Saturday afternoon, officials said, and divers said they had spotted nine bodies trapped in several vehicles. At least three others were believed to be somewhere in the wreckage.
DR. PETER LARDIZABAL, at the Hillsborough County medical examiner's office, said early autopsies showed the victims suffered extensive impact injuries such as crushed chests and skulls, punctured lungs and shattered bones.

Waterloo Courier Iowa 1980-05-11