Little Bits of History

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 9, 2015
Sunshine Skyway Bridge accident *

Sunshine Skyway Bridge accident *

May 9, 1980: The Liberian ship, M/V Summit Venture collides with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at 9.33 AM. The ship had been built in 1976 in Nagasaki, Japan. Her top cruising speed fully loaded was 13.5 knots. The bulk carrier was piloted by John Lerro on the day of the accident. He was making a required tight turn in a narrow channel during a blinding thunderstorm when his radar failed. The freighter hit one of the piers on the southbound span of the bridge. Because of the impact, 1,400 feet of the bridge collapsed. One passenger bus and six cars fell 165 feet into the water below. Wesley MacIntire was the only person on the road who survived his drop into the water. His vehicle hit the ship’s deck before falling into Tampa Bay and he was able to escape. In all, 35 people died.

Lerro was cleared of all wrongdoing both by a state grand jury and a Coast Guard investigation. He was able to return to his shipping duties but just months later was forced to retire after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He died from complications of the disease in 2002 at the age of 59. MacIntire successfully sued the company that owned Summit Venture and was awarded $175,000 in 1984. He died five years later, regretting he was the sole survivor of the day’s mishap. The bridge was eventually rebuilt.

The Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge replaced the steel cantilever bridge. The original bridge which was destroyed on this day was a two lane one which opened in 1954. A similar structure was built parallel to in on the west side and opened in 1969 to make it a four lane roadway and bring it up to state standards. Opening the newer span was delayed for two years while the south main pier was repaired. The second span was the southbound span, the one struck by the ship. The pier that required reinforcements before the bridge could be opened withstood the impact from the ship without significant damage. It was the other pier which was destroyed.

As the new bridge was built, the surviving bridge was once again a two-lane method for crossing Tampa Bay. Before the remaining bridge was destroyed, MacIntire and his wife were the last people to drive across it. As they reached the summit, the stopped and threw 35 carnations into the water below, one for each of the deceased. The new bridge opened in 1987 with a total length of 1.1 miles and the longest span covering 1,200 feet. The vertical clearance is 93 feet. Today, the toll road is used by 50,500 people daily who pay $1.25 for passenger cars to cross. The new design in a continuous prestressed concrete cable-stayed bridge consisting of four lanes. At least 207 people have used the new bridge to commit suicide by diving into the waters below and another 34 have attempted, but survived the jump.

Ugly programs are like ugly suspension bridges: they’re much more liable to collapse than pretty ones, because the way humans (especially engineer-humans) perceive beauty is intimately related to our ability to process and understand complexity. – Eric S. Raymond

I demolish my bridges behind me … then there is no choice but forward. – Firdtjof Nansen

Men build too many walls and not enough bridges. – Isaac Newton

If you’re driving down the highway in the middle of the night and you see a sign that says Bridge Out, pray for some intellectual understanding of that message, or you’re going to have an experience you’ll never forget! – Dag Hammarskjold

Also on this day: Xenu Was Here? – In 1950, L. Ron Hubbard published his book on Dianetics.
Gay Rights – In 1726, five gay men were hung after a molly house raid.
Crown Jewels Stolen – In 1671, Thomas Blood tried to steal the British Crown Jewels.
Lincoln Cathedral – In 1092, the church was consecrated.
What a Waste – In 1961, Newton Minow gave his Wasteland Speech.

* “Skywayaccident” by St. Petersburg Times. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –


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