A Brief History
On August 1, 2007, the Interstate -35 westbound bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis came tumbling down during the evening rush hour, killing 13 and injuring 145. The incident brought the crumbling infrastructure of the US to the front of the news, but as usual, little if anything was done about it. Bridges have been falling as long as men have built them. The sorry state of repair and maintenance of American bridges means more deadly failures are likely to occur, sooner rather than later. Here we list 10 notable bridge failures, not necessarily the deadliest or most famous, but ones we hope you find interesting due to the varied reasons for collapse.
10. Ulyanovsk Bridge, 1983.
The Russian ship, Aleksandr Suvorov, a river cruise ship 445 feet long and almost 4000 tons, plowed into a bridge support at Ulynaovsk on the Volga River because of going through the wrong part of the bridge. The ship had been going its maximum speed, about 16 mph. A freight train passing at the time was taken down as the bridge collapsed, and the ship was heavily damaged (but later repaired). Fatalities numbered 177, but the number injured are unknown.
9. Rafiganj Railway Bridge, 2002.
Maoist terrorists had sabotaged the bridge by removing structural plates from the metal structure, weakening its ability to carry trains. The ensuing wreck killed a minimum of 130 (to 200) people and injured an unknown number (150+) more, the worst terror related bridge disaster in history and the worst bridge disaster of the 21st Century so far.
8. Rialto Bridge, 1444.
Spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, this bridge was built of wood in 1255. Jammed with spectators watching a boat parade celebrating the wedding of the Marquess of Ferrara, the bridge collapsed, sending all those hundreds of people into the canal. Casualties are unknown. The current bridge at that location is made of stone.
7. Angers Bridge, 1850.
Spanning the Maine River in Angers, France, this suspension bridge was built in 1839. As a battalion of French soldiers marched across the bridge, the harmonic nature of marching in step caused the bridge to collapse. With 226 dead, this tragedy is possibly the worst bridge disaster in human history. Soldiers no longer march “in step” when crossing bridges, and are given the order to “route step.”
6. Hyatt Regency Walkway, 1981.
Located inside the Kansas City, Missouri hotel, this double deck suspended footbridge apparently had too many people on it, causing poorly designed and overloaded joints to fail, spilling hundreds of luckless pedestrians from the 2nd and 4th floor level walkways. The hotel atrium was crowded with 1600 people due to a dance contest going on. Fatalities numbered 114 and injuries over 200.
5. Harrow & Wealdstone Footbridge, 1952.
Located at a train station in England, the footbridge had hundreds of people on it when one train hit another, causing train cars to hit the bridge and collapse the entire structure. Casualties included 112 people killed and 340 injured.
4. Ludendorff Bridge, 1945.
Constructed for the purpose of moving German troops west in time of war, the bridge at Remagen, Germany over the Rhine River was captured by the US Army after failed attempts by the German Army to blow up the bridge. US men and equipment poured across the bridge into Germany for 10 days until it finally collapsed, killing 28 Americans. By that time, other river crossing arrangements had been made and the flood of Allied forces continued. The bridge is the star of the aptly named 1969 movie, The Bridge at Remagen.
3. Silver Bridge, 1967.
Chronicled in the 1975 book and 2002 movie, The Mothman Prophecies, the collapse of this bridge over the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, West Virginia is said to have been foretold by a mysterious being, resulting in fewer casualties than if the normal amount of people had been on the bridge when it collapsed. As it was, 37 vehicles went into the drink and 46 people died. The reason for failure was corrosion of an eyebar in the suspension chain.
2. Stirling Bridge, 1297.
At the famous battle by this name between the English and the Scots, the charging English army was attacking across the bridge when it collapsed under their weight. Rumor has it the Scots may have cheated a bit, and pre-weakened the bridge. This battle is depicted in the 1995 movie, Braveheart (starring Mel Gibson as William Wallace), but without the bridge!
1. Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 1940.
“Galloping Gertie” was known for its swaying and gyrations, but one day the harmonics of the wind and the structure were such that the waving bridge surface could not take it anymore and down she went. Luckily for posterity, the spectacular collapse was caught on film. The cause of failure is known as aeroelastic flutter. After this failure bridges were built with the wind and the bridge’s harmonic frequency in mind. Unfortunately, 1 dog died in the collapse, but people had plenty of time to get to safety.
Question for students (and subscribers): What other bridge failures would you include in this list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please read…
Vose, George Leonard. Bridge Disasters in America: The Cause and the Remedy. Palala Press, 2016.
You can also watch a video version of this list on YouTube: