Lake Pontchartrain, LA Bus Plunges Into Lake, June 1964

Lake Pontchartrain LA Bus wreck 1964.jpg


New Orleans (AP) -- A Continental Trailways bus nose-dived into Lake Pontchartrain before dawn Tuesday when two heavy barges tore a 224-foot gap in the world's longest bridge.
Six passengers perished in 15 feet of water. The bus driver and an Army sergeant survived, rescued by a courageous teenager who arrived just moments after the crash.
Pushed by a towboat, the long gravel loaded barges smashed into the bridge pillings as the bus was passing overhead. Four sections of concrete roadway and the careening bus tumbled with a roar into the placid lake waters.
"We didn't see the bus go into the water, but we heard screaming and hollering," recalled Jackie Church, 19.
Church and a companion, Bernard E. Gautreau, 42, were first at the scene.
"I could see people floating," the teen-ager said. "I hollered to the towboat, 'Throw me two life preservers.' Then I jumped in."
Church, with Gautreau's help, recovered one body and also held the two survivors above water until Coast Guard helicopters arrived. Skin divers pulled the other bodies from the submerged bus.
Jefferson Parish authorities identified the dead as:
CHARLES PERRONE, 54, Chicago, Illinois.
WILLIAM ELLIS WILSON, 20, Prentiss, Miss.
GEORGE W. BROA, 54, Cleveland, Ohio.
WILLIE C. MATTHEWS, JR., 20, Bogalusa, La.
An unidentified woman.
Authorities questioned towboat personnel to learn why the barges rammed the 24-mile-long bridge. Visibility was excellent and the lake calm.
In Washington, Rep. Hale Boggs, D-La, demanded a Coast Guard investigation.
The accident was 1.5 miles north of a draw bridge towboats are supposed to use and 8.5 miles north of the New Orleans entrance.
Neither survivor was available to newsmen for questioning.
ERNEST VAUGHN, 38, the bus driver from Jackson, Miss., was reported in fair condition following abdominal surgery. Staff Sgt. WILLIAM ECKERHAM of Ft. Benning, Ga., was listed in good with multiple bruises.
The red and silver bus had departed here on a 210-mile run to Jackson, Miss.
Bridge commission officials estimated 10 days would be required to replace the four sections. Until this is done, traffic must detour around the lake, adding 30 miles to the Jackson trip.
The $51-million bridge-on-stilts was completed in 1956. This was the fourth time it has been struck by barges, but the first time any loss of life was involved.
Thousands of vehicles daily - 166,073 in May -- pay a $1 toll to avoid the long trip around Lake Pontchartrain. Traffic in the early morning hours normally is light.
An Eastern Air Lines jetliner fell into the lake last February, killing all 58 persons aboard. That crash has not been solved.
The bus, when raised nearly 12 hours after its dive into the dull green waters, displayed a smashed and twisted front end.

San Antonio Express Texas 1964-06-17


1964 bus crash

My dad Jim Sullivan was there. He helped with the clean up on a fire tug. If anybody wants to talk with him I can share his number.

I was behind bus

I was on my way home from work and I drove up to the rear of the bus. The bridge was two lane . I passed the bus and continued home. The next morning it was all over the news that the bus went into the Lake. If I had not passed the bus I would have been behind it when it went into the Lake. I was 19 years old.

I also was down for the

I also was down for the funeral Charlie was my father-in-law. I was married to he only daughter Margaret. Would like to know if we are related. Rich from Valparaiso, IN

Pontchartrain bridge collapse 1964

I was there in Bogalusa for your funeral but I was just a kid back then. It took me almost 50 years to find you ( thank GOD for the internet ). Rest in peace uncle Charlie. Love, your niece Patti xxoo