Point Pleasant, WV Silver Bridge Over Ohio River Collapses, Dec 1967
OHIO BRIDGE FAILURE CLAIMS 8 DEAD, 35 MISSING.
OFFICIALS FORECAST 80 DEATHS.
Point Pleasant, W. Va. (AP) -- The known dead from a major bridge disaster near this Ohio River Community rose to eight Saturday and frantic rescue officials said the toll was almost certain to go higher.
West Virginia State Police and Civil Defense officials from Ohio and West Virginia said reports by relatives indicated at least 35 persons were unaccounted for.
These were persons who were believed to have been on the bridge and have not been heard from since it plummeted into the Ohio River late Friday.
The 1,750-foot span linking Point Pleasant and Kanauga, Ohio, gave way under the combined weight of bumper-to-bumper traffic about 5 p.m. Friday. Police said some of the vehicles were heavy tractor-trailer trucks.
More that 100 skin divers from throughout the two states arrived on the scene to probe the river for vehicles and bodies but they were not used due to the coldness of the water -- an estimated 40 degrees. Instead five men outfitted in deep-sea type diving gear went down to look for submerged vehicles.
ADAM ZABINSKI, commander of the U. S. Coast Guard detachment here, said the diving operation was being hampered by the six-mile per hour speed of the river's current.
ZABINSKI said large metal shields were being lowered into the stream to deflect the current around the divers and create "still water pools."
"There's always hope, but it's a slim hope," he added.
In addition, two barges bearing large cranes were on hand to begin the task of lifting vehicles out of the murky, swiftly moving stream.
A temporary morgue was set up in this town of 6,000 persons to receive and identify and additional bodies found.
The bridge, built in 1928, was owned by West Virginia and had been inspected for structural integrity in 1965.
JACK SEITZINER, coordinator of the Civil Defense rescue operation, said at the time of the inspection two years ago "no defects were found."
All commercial river traffic on a 35-mile stretch above and below the bridge was halted early Friday, and plans were being discussed to lower the water level at the disaster scene by closing locks at an upstream dam.
Army Engineers said the bridge keeled over on its downstream side into water about 40 to 50 feet deep, but that it would be some time before it would be known what caused the span to collapse.
Eyewitnesses estimated about 75 cars were on the bridge when the accident occurred. Some of vehicles tumbled onto the river's banks on both sides of the stream and were crushed by the bridge's heavy steel superstructure.
West Virginia Gov. HULETT C. SMITH said road commission officials in both states were beginning a "thorough investigation" to determine what went wrong with the bridge.
Two truck drivers who were on the bridge said they felt it "dropping and rolling." JOHN FISHEL, 42 of Petersburg, Va., added that something fell across his vehicle and he was pinned in it. "I yelled and they got me out," he continued.
SAMUEL ELLIS, 27, of Winston-Salem, N. C., said he was asleep in another truck crossing the bridge and recalled "someone trying to get me out."
"The next thing I knew I was in the hospital," he said.
"That old bridge was bouncing up and down like it always does," sobbed HOWARD BOGGS whose wife and daughter were among the missing.
"All of a sudden everything was falling down," he added. "My feet touched the bottom of the damned river."
Overload and old age could have caused the collapse of the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant, W. Va., a prominent engineer said Saturday.
DR. THOMAS E. STELSON, head of the Carnegie-Mellon Institute's Department of Civil Engineering, cited eye witness reports that traffic on one lane of the bridge was almost bumper to bumper with at least four semi-trailers grouped at one end.
Witnesses said the semi-trailers were about three feet apart.
STELSON said that while he does not know the design standards that prevailed when the bridge was built in 1928, today's requirements call for the spacing of trucks on bridges according to their geometrics.
The distances required vary from state to state. STELSON said, but in all of them it is much greater than three feet.
STELSON, who plans to travel to the site of the disaster Sunday, said the four trailers at one end would in themselves be an overload.
Divers searching the waters of the Ohio Saturday found 57 vehicles -- 40 cars and 17 trucks -- which had plunged from the bridge.
There also is a possibility, STELSON said, that the bridge was corroded at its anchorage. The I-bar of a suspension bridge such as the Silver span comes down into an anchorage, usually a piece of concrete. "Where the bar is anchored there is often a corrosion problem," STELSON said.
The Lima News Ohio 1967-12-17