expensive mistakes

May 9th, 1980 – Skyway Bridge Collapse

Richard Hornbuckle's car rests where it skidded to a stop just14 inches from the edge of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which was struck by the freighter Summit Venture on May 9, 1980. The freighter rammed the southbound span of the bridge, collapsing a 1,200 foot length of the bridge and sending several cars and a Greyhound bus into the water. Thirty-five people died. Times photo by Eric Mencher.

Richard Hornbuckle’s car rests where it skidded to a stop just14 inches from the edge of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which was struck by the freighter Summit Venture on May 9, 1980.  Times photo by Eric Mencher.

35 years ago, on the Friday before Mother’s Day – a blue 1974 Ford Courier driven by 56 year old Wesley MacIntire slowly and cautiously makes its way across the fabled Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay, Florida. Mr MacIntire has made the journey countless times over the years.

Only today there will be no sunshine. It has been swept aside with black skies and torrential rain,  whipped sporadically with an intensely fierce wind.

And soon, there will be no bridge.

In the water 150 feet below a 580 foot cargo transport ship named the “Summit Venture” has been blinded by the torrential rain and is being blown off course by sudden gusts of changing wind.

Above, a pale yellow sedan crawls along slowly with its hazard lights flashing, the red hue distorted by rain and glaring off the little blue Courier’s windshield between swipes of its overwhelmed, frantic wipers.

A Greyhound bus speeds by, its 23 passengers reading, napping, or staring out at the scene just beyond it’s cool glass windows.

The see-through mesh of the tall bridge’s deck-grating makes some people uneasy – being able to see the water 165 feet below can be both thrilling and frightening. Had anyone had the courage to look down today however, the scene playing out below would have been utterly terrifying…

Cargo Ship Summit Venture alongside the destroyed southern Sunshine Skyway span

Cargo Ship Summit Venture alongside the destroyed southern Sunshine Skyway span

The Summit Venture is about to crash into one of the Bridge’s secondary support columns, knocking it out completely and causing a 1,400 foot section of the bridge to  suddenly sway, then fall from beneath these vehicles traveling across it.

The pale yellow car suddenly kids sideways to a stop just inches from the edge of the last remaining section, which hangs precariously above the carnage below. It’s bewildered passengers scramble back up to safety as other vehicles behind it reverse or u-turn hoping to escape.

Richard Hornbuckle's car

Richard Hornbuckle’s car

For the rest however,  the echos of airbrakes are helpless, and the brake lights flash to no avail… there is no stopping in mid air. Over half a dozen vehicles would plunge into the depths below.

Skyway Bridge Courier

Amazingly, one person would survive the fall – “Sole Survivor” Wesley MacIntire in his little Blue 1974 Ford Courier, having bounced off the ship’s bow below before rolling into the water. A WWII veteran who also survived the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach back in June 6, 1944, he told of remembering hitting the ship, then bubbles in the water. Somehow he was able to bend the mangled Courier’s door window frame out and escape with just a gash on his forehead before being rescued by the very ship that brought so much destruction.

The Greyhound bus however is among the vehicles that will not be so lucky. In total 35 people are known to have perished.

Greyhound bus retrieved from the water. 23 passengers and driver perished.

Greyhound bus retrieved from the water. 23 passengers and driver perished.

The span will eventually be replaced with the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 1987, and the old approaches would remain as Skyway Fishing Pier State Park and become the longest fishing pier in the world.

The Summit Venture meanwhile would eventually be lost off of the coast of Vietnam in December 2010, having been renamed several times before sinking as the Jian Mao 9.

These images, along with a tremendous amount of photos,
archived news articles, and video can be seen at http://www.skywaybridge.com

(all images courtesy of skywaybridge.com unless otherwise noted)

Richard Hornbuckle's car rests on remaining section

Richard Hornbuckle’s car rests on remaining section

Cargo Ship Summit Venture alongside the destroyed southern Sunshine Skyway span

Cargo Ship Summit Venture alongside the destroyed southern Sunshine Skyway span

Dismantling of southern span.

Dismantling of southern span.

View of southern span of Sunshine Skyway bridge

View of southern span of Sunshine Skyway bridge

Cargo Ship Summit Venture with remnants of the destroyed Sunshine Skyway bridge

Cargo Ship Summit Venture with remnants of the destroyed Sunshine Skyway bridge

Aerial photo of aargo Ship "Summit Venture" alongside the destroyed Sunshine Skyway span

Aerial photo of aargo Ship “Summit Venture” alongside the destroyed Sunshine Skyway span

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  • http://www.washington.edu/news/archive/52703 mdharrell

    <img src="http://www.skywaybridge.com/images/800509/800509e.jpg&quot; width="400">

    I'm glad I didn't have the job of "guy who gets to prep the Buick for retrieval."

    My father was a member of a bridge crew for the Oregon Department of Transportation for a few years and had to deal with some unfortunate situations, but this is stunning.

  • http://hooniverse.com/ Batshitbox

    "No damned Sunshine, No damned Skyway."
    -Newton Hoenikker

  • Fuhrman16

    Holy hell, how did that guy survive in the Courier pickup? There's nothing left of that cab!
    What a tragic and terrifying event.

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