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Old December 15th, 2007, 06:26 AM   #1
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Silver Bridge collapse: 40 years later

See also: Silver Bridge at Bridges and Tunnels

Memories still vivid of Silver Bridge collapse
By Jean Tarbett Hardiman, Herald-Dispatch, December 8, 2007

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. -- Some were there, some were nearby and others were off living their lives on Dec. 15, 1967, just before sundown at 5 o'clock. But all their lives were marked forever.

Residents of Mason County, W.Va., and Gallia County, Ohio, lost dozens of friends and loved ones that night. Loss, of course, was the most tragic and immediate impact after the collapse of the Silver Bridge, which occurred 40 years ago next Saturday. A fractured eyebar that helped suspend the bridge caused the nearly 1,800-foot structure to collapse into the Ohio River.

Forty-six people died. Nine others were seriously injured.

Other effects of the tragedy came about later. It took a long time for Christmas to feel like Christmas again for many members of the tightly knit communities, which to some is more like one community divided by a river.

Others had nightmares about water. Some can hardly cross a bridge, even today.

All the while, many have been asked to tell and retell their stories about that night. They've become sought-after story-tellers, marked by outsiders for their experience and urged to frequently recount the events of Dec. 15.

Even after 40 years, the details are vivid, said Robert Rimmey, who lives about 3 miles outside of Point Pleasant. He watched the bridge fall and helped rescue a pregnant woman.

"I can remember it just like it was yesterday," Rimmey said. "I'll never forget it. If you lose friends like that, you never forget it."

He lost friend Leo "Doc" Sanders that day. Saunders, a local cab driver, had a fare in Gallipolis and was in the middle of the bridge when it crumbled.

"I knew a lot of people on the bridge. I've lived here all my life," Rimmey said.

Rimmey's story starts from outside the Mason County Courthouse, where the then 28-year-old was sitting in view of the bridge, dubbed the "Silver Bridge" because of the aluminum paint that gave it a silver gleam.

It was a cold Friday evening, around freezing or below. A lot of people were about to get off work. Some had been busy with holiday errands. Others were headed to one ball game or another.

"I heard a loud crack, and I thought it was a post that used to be there on the sidewalk where I was sitting," he said. "I turned around and I saw the bridge swaying, and the whole thing fell."

He got out of his car as a state police officer was leaving the courthouse.

"He said, 'Come on, Bob,' " Rimmey recalled. When they got to the bridge, they found a pregnant woman in a car near the edge of the break.

"We got a hold of her and got her off the bridge," he said. "She was scared to death. You couldn't blame her. It broke off right in front of her. We walked back up on the bridge. There was a Hennis Freight Lines trailer floating down the river and there was a man hanging onto that, and (a fuel company) got a boat and picked him up.

"On the Ohio side, there was a bale of something floating and a man hanging onto it, and they got him. He got way down the river before they got him, because the river was swift. Those were the only two people I saw."

The pregnant woman was Charlene Wood, who lives in Gallipolis, Ohio.

She was driving a 1967 Pontiac, white with a black vinyl top, and going home after a day of work at the beauty shop and after checking on her parents. They lived in Point Pleasant, and she was on her way home to Ohio.

"As I was approaching the bridge, the light changed. When it went to green, I started over the bridge and there was a terrible shaking of the bridge. My father was a riverboat captain and had talked about barges hitting the bridge and the pier, so when I heard that, I automatically put my car in reverse."

Her car stalled, and "by the time I got my car stopped, mine was on the very edge where it broke off," she said.

Because she was pregnant, she tried to keep her cool. She remembered looking around and seeing wires dangling. And she remembered a state patrolman and Rimmey coming to the door of her car and walking her out.

"You could hear (people) screaming. It was terrible," she said. "By the time I went to the end of the bridge, I had gone into shock."

She was taken to the hospital. She was released that evening and stayed with her parents.

"It just wasn't my time to go," Wood said. "The Lord had something else for me to do. I had twins in April, a boy and a girl. I didn't know I was going to have twins at the time. The Lord left me here for that, I'm sure of it."

On the other end of the bridge that night was Betty Fowler Lawson of Scottown, Ohio. She was with her husband at the time, James Fowler, and four others, also on their way from West Virginia to Ohio.

Traffic was stalled. According to reports, there were 37 vehicles on the bridge when it happened. Thirty-one fell into the water.

"It was a terrible experience. We knew it was falling. You could hear the racket where it was weaving back and forth," Lawson said. "If we could have made it 15 or 20 more feet over, we'd have gotten onto the ramp that didn't fall, but we fell 20 or 30 feet."

None of them got hurt, other than a bump on the head.

In getting to safety, "We had to be careful. I could hardly see, I was so nervous," Lawson recalled. "There were power lines everywhere. People were screaming, and one man was hollering his back was broke."

She remembered seeing a patrolman who came to the scene and appeared to be in shock.

"I asked him to get help because some of these people (in the water) were living," Lawson said. "We got out on our own and walked to a phone, and I made a call home before the power went off to report to my family that I was still alive, and all in our car were still OK."

Her husband has since died and she has remarried. Many things have changed since then, but one hasn't.

"It's been 40 years, and if a bridge is loaded with cars, I stay way back," she said. "A lot of times, I just get off of it. I just can't cross. Any bridge, it's the same thing."

Steve Darst had that feeling even back in 1967. On the day the bridge fell, he had already been over it, and didn't waste any time about it.

Darst, now 70, of Point Pleasant, took his uncle over the Silver Bridge to the Ohio side. One of the traffic lights wasn't working, he said, so his 1964 Oldsmobile was stuck for a time on the bridge.

"I didn't like the feeling. I passed 40-some cars and went through the red light, and other people followed suit," he said. "I told my uncle, 'Hang on, I'm going to fly this bridge. It was jammed up on the north side. I probably hit 90, and I didn't care."

He had come back over the bridge afterward, quickly, and was at a red light at 6th Street in Point Pleasant when the bridge fell.

"Those eyebars were swinging, almost like clapping their hands," he said.

He went to tell his wife, Virginia, who was working at an insurance company near the base of the bridge. Then the power went out, and they quickly fled home.

"I decided to get away from the place," he said. "The Sheriff's Department across from where my wife worked -- they all kicked into high gear. They shut all the telephones down for emergencies only. It was a mess, though.

"A lot of people I knew were on the bridge," he said. "Four or five that I knew from Goodyear drowned."

He had nightmares for about two years.

"It ruined Christmas for a long time," he said. "There was always that in the background. You don't like to see things like that, but you don't have control over it so you have to put up with what life throws at you."

Following the collapse, ferry boats would take people across the Ohio River from Kanauga, Ohio, to Point Pleasant.

Lawson took it to get to work at a furniture store, and for a while, she had dreams about the ferry boat.

"That ferry was scary, too," she said. "I dreamed of that. It was sinking, and I couldn't get out."

Survivors' guilt was not uncommon. Wood felt it.

"I wondered why I didn't go in," she said. "I knew a lot of people there, and everybody was scrambling around wondering where their family members were."

She paused for a moment, thinking back. Then she summed it up with a simple word used often to describe something that to her is far more than a page in a history book.

"It was a tragedy," she said.

Last edited by seicer; December 15th, 2007 at 06:27 AM. Reason: +link
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Old December 15th, 2007, 06:27 AM   #2
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Survivor recalls plunge from SIlver Bridge into the river

Survivor recalls plunge from SIlver Bridge into the river
By Jake Stump, Daily Mail, December 14, 2007

Truck driver William Edmondson was hauling 35,000 pounds of tire fabric on his usual run back to Detroit on Dec. 15, 1967.

Coming from Winston-Salem, N.C., Edmondson would cross the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant two or three times a week.

The suspension bridge, which connected Point Pleasant and Kanauga, Ohio, was built in 1928 and named for the color of its aluminum paint.

For Edmondson, then 38, it was just another freight run.

That is, until the bridge shook unusually as he drove his rig over it. He recalls the bridge tilting right, collapsing and dumping him and everything on the deck into the Ohio River below.

The impact launched Edmondson from the driver's seat through the passenger glass window.

Immersed in 43-degree water, Edmondson floated downstream to the mouth of the Kanawha River. He eventually came upon a barge, where some men helped the battered and bloodied trucker out of the water.

"If I hadn't been conscious, I would have drowned," Edmondson said.

Edmondson was transported to Pleasant Valley Hospital and treated for a broken right arm and several cuts on his arms, legs and head.

He's one of the few to

live through the disaster that killed 46 people.

It is believed there were 37 vehicles on the span when it crumbled, and only nine people survived the fall.

Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the collapse. Jam-packed with rush hour traffic at around 5 p.m. that day, the bridge gave way because of the failure of a single eye-bar in the suspension chain, investigators concluded.

A newspaper reporter described the event by writing that the bridge "bent sharply to the north, spilling its contents into the river, then groaning, went down in slow motion on top of the sinking vehicles, apparently crushing many of them against the river bottom."

Now 78, Edmondson lives in King, N.C., a town of about 6,000.

He considers himself a lucky man, because so many others, including his driving partner, didn't make it.

Harold Cundiff, who was riding with Edmondson, was sound asleep in the back of the cab.

"They didn't find his body until six weeks later," Edmondson said.

After he recovered, Edmondson went back to work in early 1968.

He would finally decide to give it up five years later after he got pinned in a tractor-trailer for three hours after a crash on Interstate 95 near Washington, D.C. He suffered a broken collarbone.

"I thought, 'You get me out of this truck and I'm not going to get into it ever again,'" he said.

Though Edmondson said the Silver Bridge collapse didn't dramatically alter his life, he would still get a jolt of fear every time he drove across a bridge.

For a while, he had nightmares.

"It took me a while to get over it," he said during a telephone interview this week. "But time heals. I'm just as good as ever. I busted up my elbow and that's the biggest thing that happened to me."

He still experiences stiffness in his elbow and it's not as useful as his left one.

Out of curiosity, Edmondson returned to Point Pleasant three years ago to see how things have changed in the river town. He also wanted to see how the town was dealing with the past tragedy.

He was even on-hand when the Silver Memorial Bridge was constructed to replace the old one in 1969.

Ever since, he's built up a collection of newspaper clippings and pictures about the Silver Bridge.

He said he doesn't stay in touch with any fellow survivors, but remembers sharing a hospital room with one, William "Frank" Wamsley, after the collapse.

"I tell you what's strange," Edmondson said. "There were three of us named William who survived it."

Wamsley, of Point Pleasant, was 28 at the time of the collapse.

Also surviving were Howard Boggs, of Bidwell, Ohio; Paul Scott, of Middleport, Ohio; William Needham Jr., of Asheboro, N.C.; Samuel Ellis, of Winston-Salem, N.C.; Frank Nunn, of Greenville, N.C.; Margaret Cantrell, of Gallipolis Ferry; and John Fishel, of Petersburg, Va.

Many of those listed could not be reached and were unlisted in telephone directories.

Scores of others on U.S. 35 that day were fortunate enough to cross the bridge moments before it collapsed.

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, who was then a sophomore studying education at Marshall, remembers traveling home to Williamstown for Christmas break.

Anderson and a few friends made it across the bridge about five minutes before it fell.

"I know there was a lot of wind on the river that day," Anderson recalled. "It was extremely windy."

On the way home, he noticed heavy traffic heading in both directions, and an unusually large amount of tractor-trailers on the bridge.

Anderson, a teacher, said he tells the story to his students.

"I let them know I was pretty close," he said. "I'm a firm believer that the Lord wanted to leave me here. I tell the kids if I went across that bridge five minutes later that they may have never had to encounter me."

Though Anderson didn't personally know anyone who died in the collapse, he said it's piqued his interest when dealing with transportation safety issues at the Statehouse.

In Point Pleasant, the bridge collapse is just one of several unusual events that are associated with the town.

Immediately after the collapse, some residents theorized about possible causes.

Some claimed to have heard a sonic boom around the time the bridge fell. Investigators determined that if a sonic boom had occurred, there would have been damage to other structures.

In later years, a Time magazine reporter speculated about the collapse and the curse of Chief Cornstalk. In 1777, Cornstalk, a prominent leader of the Shawnee Indians during the American Revolution, made a diplomatic visit to Fort Randolph at Point Pleasant. American militiamen, however, were less cordial and detained Cornstalk at the fort. He was later killed.

The area has since been said to be under the curse of Chief Cornstalk.

People have also pointed at the Mothman, the mysterious winged-creature supposedly spotted several times in the Point Pleasant area, as a reason for the disaster.

Mothman sightings were reported frequently in the months leading up to the collapse. But following the collapse, reports of sightings seemed to quell.

In the 2002 film "Mothman Prophecies," starring Richard Gere, the movie ends with the collapse of the Silver Bridge.

Jeff Wamsley operates the Mothman Museum in downtown Point Pleasant.

"It depends on who you talk to," Wamsley said about the Mothman-Silver Bridge connection. "Technically, the bridge collapsed due to a failed eyebolt that had rusted over the years. But since the bridge fell around the same time all of the UFO/Mothman sightings, some locals thought this was more than a mere coincidence.

"There seems to be a conspiracy angle to most big disasters and the Silver Bridge collapse seems to draw many different opinions on why and how the bridge fell. Regardless of the reason, there were 46 people who died and countless families' lives were changed forever."
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Old December 17th, 2007, 06:27 AM   #3
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(WV, OH) Silver Bridge 40 years later

URL contains photographs and link to names of the deceased.

Charleston Gazette's December 16, 1967 account --

Audio slideshow --

Silver Bridge 40 years later
By Tara Tuckwiller, Sunday Gazette-Mail, December 16, 2007

Ten days before Christmas, in 1967, Glenna Mae Taylor had already taken a little leave from her job as a schoolteacher.

Her baby was due in less than three weeks.

It was the Taylors’ first baby. The young couple had already set up their Christmas tree. They had placed the baby’s new crib beneath it.

But Glenna and her husband, Denzil, who was also a teacher at Point Pleasant High School, still had a bit of Christmas shopping left to do.

On the freezing-cold afternoon of Friday, Dec. 15, 1967, they set out together in their car, across the Silver Bridge.

‘We got stopped on the bridge ... and our car began to shake’

While the Taylors were headed home from their shopping trip, another family — the Silers — were headed home, too. Pat Siler was arguing mildly with her husband, Bob, over whether they had time to look at Christmas trees.

“I said, ‘I’ve got baked chili in the oven. We’ll have to go home,’” Siler recalled.

So the Silers and their two youngest children, 5-year-old Rod and 10-year-old Ric, started across the Silver Bridge at rush hour, crossing the Ohio River toward their home in Point Pleasant.

“It was bumper-to-bumper,” Siler said. “We got stopped on the bridge. We had the two kids and the dog in the back seat.

“Our car began to shake ... so we turned around to the kids and started fussing, ‘Sit still, don’t fight.’”

But the scary moment soon passed. Traffic started moving again, and the Silers drove on across the bridge. As they reached the Point Pleasant side, they saw some of their neighbors driving toward them, getting on the bridge.

“And [we] waved at the Wedges who lived up the street, and the Byuses, and all of them went on across ...”

And although Siler didn’t know it, the bridge started to tremble again.

Eighteen-year-old Margaret Boggs was still stuck in traffic on the bridge with her husband, Howard, 24, and their 1-year-old baby, Kristye. The couple had just finished buying Kristye’s presents.

“What will we do if this thing breaks?” was the last thing Howard Boggs heard his wife say.

A corpse-finding mission

From newspaper accounts the next day:
# “‘It didn’t just fall into the river,’ said a coal truck driver who witnessed the scene. ‘It sort of slithered like a snake, then it buckled and cars began falling off sideways.’”
# “‘That old bridge was bouncing up and down like it always does,’ sobbed Howard Boggs. ... ‘Then all of a sudden everything was falling down. My feet touched the bottom of the damned river.’”
# Said H.L. Whobrey, who was selling Christmas trees alongside the bridge: “I saw three to four people swimming around in the water, screaming. I couldn’t do anything. I just stood there and watched ...

“I saw this car float past. It looked like there were people inside beating their hands on the windows.” The last car to get off the bridge in one piece came to a stop in his Christmas tree lot, and the man inside vomited.
# Said Lee Long, one of the first rescuers at the scene: “People were crawling out of the cars in all that bridge wreckage screaming and moaning ... there was a tractor-trailer rig hanging on the riverbank, partly in the water. The driver was hanging from the open door of the cab, dead.”

Bargemen managed to pull a few people, still alive, from the icy-cold river — including Howard Boggs. Rescuers scrabbled through the wreckage on land and unearthed a few more.

For a while, survivors held out hope that their loved ones might be found, too.

But few people lived through the Silver Bridge disaster. After those few rescues in the first few minutes, the whole operation switched to a river-dragging, corpse-finding mission.

After five days of dragging the river, searchers pulled up the bodies of 30-year-old Hilda Byus and her 2-year-old daughter, Kimberly. The bodies of the Silers’ other neighbors, the Wedges, were found, too.

After 12 days of dragging the river, divers found Glenna Mae Taylor’s body about 40 feet beneath the surface, tangled in the steel of the bridge.

After 45 days of dragging the river, searchers pulled up a late-model Chevy sedan — like many of the other cars, it had slid off the twisting bridge and then was crushed into the river bottom when the thousands of tons of steel finally fell on top of it.

Officials called Howard Boggs to identify the bodies of his young wife and baby daughter.

Searchers kept dragging the river into March, but they never did find the bodies of two people.

“I know that Kathy was not found,” Pat Siler said — Mrs. Byus’s other daughter, who had been a student in Siler’s kindergarten.

“They found the mother and they found the baby, but they didn’t find the little girl.”

Bridges on the verge of collapse

By now, people know about the aftermath of the Silver Bridge: It turned out nobody had inspected the bridge thoroughly since at least before 1951, according to newspaper reports from the time. State “inspections” had consisted of looking at the top of the bridge through binoculars.

The 39-year-old bridge was severely corroded because of neglect. Also, it turned out the bridge’s design was atypical in several respects, including the “chains” — cheaper than cables — that suspended the bridge from its two main towers. One link cracked, and the whole thing collapsed.

Victims and their families sued U.S. Steel, which had been involved in making the steel and building the bridge. But in 1971, when the National Transportation Safety Board released its report, it assigned no blame to anybody.

The U.S. government decided it would be a good idea to require inspections of the nation’s bridges. Quietly, officials began shutting down bridges everywhere, as one look revealed bridge after bridge on the verge of collapse.

Meanwhile, the federal government put up the entire $14.5 million to build a new bridge at Point Pleasant. Exactly two years after the Silver Bridge disaster, hundreds of people — politicians, schoolchildren, marching bands — crowded onto the new bridge for a big dedication ceremony.

“Federal Highway Administrator Francis Turner assured the audience that another disaster ‘such as happened here, will not occur,’” read the newspaper report from Dec. 15, 1969.

Fourteen years later, three people died when a corroded Connecticut bridge collapsed.

Three years after that, 10 people died when a New York bridge collapsed after water eroded its supports.

And in August, 13 people died when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
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Old December 18th, 2007, 12:01 AM   #4
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Summary Report

Here's a synopsis of the NTSB report on the failure:

Adopted: December 16, 1970
DECEMBER 15, 1967
NTSB Number: HAR-71/01
NTIS Number: PB-190202
The U. S. 35 Highway Bridge connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia, with Kanauga, Ohio, collapsed at approximately 5 p.m. (EST) December 15, 1967. Forty-six persons died in the accident, nine were injured, and 31 of the 37 vehicles on the bridge fell with the bridge. Twenty-four vehicles fell into the Ohio River and seven fell on the Ohio shore. There were no pedestrians on the bridge at the time of collapse.
The initial failure in the bridge structure was a cleavage fracture in the lower limb of the eye of eyebar 330 (north bar, north chain, Ohio side span) at joint C13N, the first eyebar chain joint west of the Ohio tower of the bridge. The cleavage fracture was followed by a ductile fracture in the upper limb of the eye of eyebar 330 at joint C13N, separating eyebar 330 from the chain. Immediately following the separation of eyebar 330 from joint C13N, the sister eyebar 33 slipped from the C13N joint pin, resulting in the separation of the north chain at that location. The collapse of the bridge began in the Ohio side span, moving eastward toward the West Virginia shore, with the result that within a period of about 1 minute, the 700-foot center span, the two 380-foot side spans, and the towers had collapsed.

The Safety Board finds that the cause of the bridge collapse was the cleavage fracture in the lower limb of the eye of eyebar 330 at joint C13N of the north eyebar suspension chain in the Ohio side span. The fracture was caused by the development of a critical size flaw over the 40-year life of the structure as the result of the joint action of stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue.

Contributing causes are:

1. In 1927, when the bridge was designed, the phenomena of stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue were not known to occur in the classes of bridge material used under conditions of exposure normally encountered in rural areas.
The location of the flaw was inaccessible to visual inspection.
The flaw could not have been detected by any inspection method known in the state of the art today without disassembly of the eyebar joint.
The Safety Board recommends that:

1. The Secretary of Transportation expand existing research programs or institute new research programs to:

a. Identify bridge building materials susceptible to slow flaw growth by any of the suspected mechanisms;
b. Determine critical flaw size under various stress levels in bridge building materials;
c. Develop inspection equipment capable of detecting critical or near critical flaws in standing bridge structures;
d. Devise analytical procedures to identify critical locations in bridge structures which require detailed inspection;
e. Develop standards which incorporate appropriate safeguards in the design and fabrication of future bridges to ensure protection against failures of material such as occurred in the Point Pleasant Bridge;
f. Develop standards for the qualification of materials for future bridge structures, using the information disclosed in this investigation;
g. Devise techniques for repair, protection, or salvage of bridges damaged by internal flaws; and
h. Expand the knowledge of loading history and life expectancy of bridges.
2. The Secretary of Transportation explore the alternatives for action to assure mandatory application of the bridge safety requirements of the 1968 Federal-Aid-Highway Act to all highway bridges in the United States, since the majority of older bridges in the country are not in the Federal-Aid-Highway System and these bridges are most susceptible to extensive repair or replacement; including such alternative courses of action as urging the adoption by the States of mandatory standards, or the enactment of Federal legislation applicable to all highway bridges.
3. The Secretary of Transportation consider the advisability of proposing a program of Federal aid to ensure the adequate repair of all bridges not in the Federal-Aid-System.
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