Point Pleasant, WV Silver Bridge Over Ohio River Collapses, Dec 1967
OHIO RIVER SPAN COLLAPSES; DEATH TOLL MAY REACH SIXTY.
Point Pleasant, W. Va., (UPI) -- A depression-era bridge, groaning under the weight of rush hour traffic, collapsed with a roar at dusk Friday hurtling dozens of vehicles into the icy water and frozen banks of the Ohio River. There were fears the death toll would reach 60.
Only six bodies were recovered but sheriff DENVER WALKER of Gallia County, who was directing rescue operations on the Ohio side of the river, said:
"This is just a drop in the bucket. I'm afraid there are about 60 dead."
At least 18 persons were hospitalized.
Rescuers planned to close a lock on the river above the bridge and open one below it in an effort to lower the water depth to facilitate the search for bodies.
Estimates of the number of vehicles on the 100-foot high bridge varied from 30 to 100.
The bridge, built in 1928 and renovated after World War II, is about a third of a mile long and connects West Virginia with Ohio. The governors of both states were on the scene to assess damage.
Ambulances from as far as 50 miles away responded to pleas for assistance.
Coast Guard boats cruised the area looking for possible victims or survivors while divers scoured the murky river bottom.
The bridge, last inspected in 1965, carried traffic between the West Virginia state capital at Charleston and southeastern Ohio. Its terminus on the Ohio side is Kanauga.
JOHN SAMSELL, editor of the Point Pleasant Register, said the bridge collapsed along nearly its entire length and submerged quickly.
"We hit the water and the truck sand like a rock," said WILLIAM NEEDHAM, JR., 27, a tractor-trailer driver from Ashboro, N. C. NEEDHAM said he held his breath when the truck settled to the 30-foot depth of the river, pried open a window and swam to the surface where he was plucked from the water by volunteers.
FRANK WAMSLEY, 28, of Point Pleasant, who was in another rig, said he did not remember "too much of how I got out."
"I got hold of something and swam to the top," WAMSLEY said. "Then I got hold of what looked like a barrel of cotton and held on to it until they (rescue squads) picked me up."
NEEDHAM and WAMSLEY said they feared their partners were dead.
"I wanted to make it home for Christmas," NEEDHAM said. "But I'm happy just to be alive."
One of the dead was identified as MELVIN CANTRELL of Point Pleasant. He was dead on arrival at Holzer Hospital at Gallipolis, Ohio, where his wife was admitted in fair condition.
Two others detained at Holzer were identified as FRANK NUNN and SAM ELLIS, truck drivers from Winston-Salem, N. C. Another was JOHN FISHELL of Petersburg, VA. All were listed in fair condition.
The accident caused a massive tieup in telephone service on both sides of the river. Traffic was snarled for miles.
Gov. HULETT SMITH of West Virginia and JAMES A. RHODES of Ohio said a new bridge in Interstate 77 between Williamstown, W. Va., and Marietta, Ohio, was being opened prematurely Friday night to help ease the crush. The bridge was to have been dedicated Monday.
MERVIN CHAPMAN, an ambulance driver who helped ferry the dead and injured to hospitals, said that when he first arrived on the scene, "I saw a tractor-trailer floating down the river."
The Lima Daily News Ohio 1967-12-16