Webbers Falls, OK Interstate Bridge Collapse, May 2002
DIVERS SEARCH FOR CARS, VICTIMS OF BRIDGE MISHAP IN OKLAHOMA.
Webbers Falls, Okla. -- The scene could have easily come straight from a disaster movie. A barge rams into a bridge during a busy holiday weekend, sending vehicles plummeting into the water as a giant section of road collapses.
The scenario played itself out in Oklahoma on Sunday on the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River, where divers planned to resume the search for bodies early Monday. Three bodies have been found, but up to a dozen people may have died.
At least five people were hospitalized, including one rescued by fishermen who alerted authorities to the collapse.
One boatman, Norman Barton, Jr., watched the bridge crumble from only a quarter-mile away as he competed in a bass-fishing tournament.
"I just watched one after another go off into space, just like you see on the action movies ...," Barton said.
Josef Blann, a diver with the Marine Corps Reserve, said authorities believed 14 vehicles went off the 1,988-foot long bridge into the 11-foot-deep water. A 500-foot section of the bridge collapsed after the barge being pushed by a two boat slammed into its piers.
Rescue crews retrieved floating pieces of car seats, clothing and diapers. Huge slabs of concrete where the west side of the bridge gave way slumped in the water close to the river's edge.
"There was a number of fishermen down there who saw it happen. They said it veered right into the piling and here came the road," said Gov. Frank Keating.
The 14 vehicles that plunged into the water included a dozen passenger vehicles and two tractor-trailer rigs. A horse trailer also went under, and divers pulled three dead horses from the water, West said.
Keating, who flew to the area 100 miles east of Oklahoma City, said the barge captain may have suffered a seizure at the wheel.
Joel Henderson, an attorney for Magnolia Marine Transport Co., of Vicksburg, Miss., which owns the tow boat, said the captain, Joe Dedmon, was admitted to Muskogee Regional Medical Center.
Preliminary tests on Dedmon, 61, showed he had not been using alcohol or drugs, Henderson said. Dedmon, of Florence, Miss., regained consciousness some time after the collision, he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard and FBI have spoken to Dedmon, and the National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.
In Webbers Falls, officials set up a morgue inside city hall, and victims families were told to go to the community center in Gore, located on the other side of the river.
"The loss of life is something that is unbearable for all of us because these are people traveling on Memorial Day from all over the country," Keating said.
Those lost were:
ANDREW CLEMENTS, 35, who was traveling from California to Woodbridge, Va.
JEANINE CAWLEY, 48, of Lebanon, Ore.
MARGARET GREEN, 45, of Stockdale, Texas.
GAIL SHANAHAN, 49, of Corpus Christi, Texas.
MISTY JOHNSON, 28, of Lavaca, Ark.
JAMES JOHNSON, 30, of Lavaca, Ark.
SHEA NICOLE JOHNSON, 3, was found floating approximately one-half mile south of the bridge.
PAUL TAILELE, JR., 39, of Magna, Utah.
WAYNE MARTIN, 49, of Norman, Okla.
SUSAN MARTIN, 49, of Norman, Okla.
JERRY GILLION, 58, of Spiro, Okla.
PATRICIA GILLION, 57, of Spiro, Okla.
DAVID MUEGGENBORG, 52, of Okarche, Okla.
JEAN MUEGGENBORG, 51, of Okarche, Okla.
Shane Guthrie, personnel manager for Magnolia Marine Transport, said the company's 104-foot-long towboat, the Robert Y. Love, was pushing two barges when the accident occurred. None of the seven people on the barge was injured, officials said.
It wasn't clear whether a thunderstorm in the area and fast-moving river water contributed to the crash.
The bridge built in 1967, is about 35 miles west of the Arkansas state line. It was last inspected in June 2001 and was found to be in "great shape," said Terri Angier a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
The I-40 bridge normally has heavy traffic, said Highway Patrol Sgt. Jarrett Johnson. The interstate is a main east-west route across the country.
Two of the injured were in stable condition early Monday at Muskogee Regional Medical Center, and the fifth was taken to Sequoyah Memorial Hospital with non-life threatening injuries, officials said. Two more were treated and released.
"One gentleman said he was driving and all of a sudden there was nothing under him," Ched Wetz, an administrator for the Muskogee Hospital, said Sunday. "He doesn't remember how he got out of his vehicle. He probably swam out, but he simply doesn't remember."
MAX ALLEY, of Stroud, Okla., was in stable condition; his wife, GOLDIE, and RODNEY TIDWELL, of Ripley, Miss., were treated and released. JAMES BILYEAU was in stable condition with head injuries.
Reneta Crane, who is a niece of one of the injured, said her uncle, a truck driver, took a breath inside the cab after it hit the water and floated out.
"He's alive and he's doing good. He's a tough old guy," Crane said.
Aiken Standard South Carolina 2002-05-27