Big Stone Gap, VA Swinging Bridge Collapses, June 1959


Big Stone Gap, Va. -- Two persons remained in critical condition at St. Mary's Hospital in Norton Monday from injuries received Sunday when a swinging bridge collapsed near here.
HAROLD CULBERTSON, about 55, of Big Stone Gap and MILTON B. BISHOP, 61, of Bristol, Va., remained in critical condition.
CHARLEY TIPTON, 19, of Clinchport was transferred to Holston Valley Community Hospital in Kingsport, where his condition was described at "good."
Still hospitalized at Norton are CHRISTINE COLLINS, 12, and CHARLOTTE BLEDSOE, 16. The COLLINS girl is in "good" condition, and the BLEDSOE girl was said to be "improving."
In all ten persons were injured when the bridge collapsed. They were part of a throng, which had gathered for a singing convention at Bullitt Park. Five of the injured were treated and released at the Norton Hospital.
Several others who were on the bridge when it fell were not injured. The bridge was a suspension bridge, used as a walkway from the park to Aviation Road. The bridge was about 20 feet from the water.
A doctor said CULBERTSON seemed to be the most seriously injured. He received a possible spine injury, head cuts, fractured ribs and wrist, and possible internal injuries.
BISHOP has "severe fractures" of the wrists, head cuts and possible internal injuries. A witness said BISHOP saved CULBERTSON'S life by holding CULBERTSON'S head up out of the water until aid reached them, even though both of BISHOP'S arms were broken.
The bridge fell when one of the 2-inch steel suspension cables apparently broke where it was anchored in the ground. In the confusion, no one knew exactly how many were on the bridge, but from 15 to 30 people were reported on it when it fell.
Many of them were dumped into the Powell River which is about two feet deep where the bridge crossed. About half of them clung to the cable that did not break and climbed to safety. The accident occurred about 11:30 a.m.
Two young sisters, JUDY, 15, and NADINE BARKER, 13, said they were on the landing at the end of the bridge when it fell.
Two men guarding the entrance to the bridge, stopped them from going across until part of the people going across had reached the other side they said.
One witness said some boys had been shaking the bridge shortly before it fell but had stopped.
An ambulance picked up some of the injured and a fire truck picked up others and rushed them to aid. An appeal was made on the local radio station for other ambulances.
Two came from Pennington Gap but the injured had been moved before they arrived.
Still others stood by at Norton and as far away as Lebanon.
D. C. Fraley, who lives on Aviation Road, near the end of the bridge, said he and A. B. Mullins were sitting on the front porch when the accident occurred. They said it happened so fast that they did not actually see the bridge fall.
Fraley said he heard a scream and the bridge was gone. Mullins ran to the river bank and helped 10 to 15 people from the end of the bridge who managed to hang on.
Mullins said that there appeared to be 20 to 30 people on the bridge when it fell. He said most of them were teen-agers.
Anxious parents and curious onlookers, who gathered around the river bank to check on the injured, hindered the rescue operation. Children became temporarily lost in the throng caused added worries to their parents.
About 20 groups of singers from Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky sang religious songs from the platform at Bullitt Park. Officials said the number of singers was less than past years' but the crowd appeared to be the usual 5 to 10,000.

Kingsport Times Tennessee 1959-06-15


Swinging Bridge falls. In Big Stone Gap

The man listed in this article as D. C. Fraley should be L. C. Fraley. He was my wife’s grandfather and lived across Avation Road at the End Of This Bridge. My wife grew up on this same road about 100 yards from his house.