A Brief History
On May 9, 1980, in a scene out of horror movie the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a support pier of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that spanned 4.1 miles across Tampa Bay in Florida.
The bridge roadway soared 165 feet above the water built in 1954. In 1971 a parallel span was built to carry southbound traffic only and the older span became northbound only.
In a heavy thunderstorm that reduced visibility to near zero, the 580 foot long 19,000 ton Summit Venture bulk carrier blundered into a support pier in the middle of the span, causing 1200 feet of southbound roadway to fall into the bay. (The northbound side was not affected.) Along with the roadway, a Greyhound bus, a truck, and six cars fell bringing 35 people to their deaths.
Incredibly, a man driving a pickup truck landed with his truck onto the deck of the Summit Venture and survived, later settling a lawsuit for only $175,000. While an all new bridge was being built, the northbound side of the old bridge was opened to one lane each of north and south traffic.
The new bridge was opened in 1987 and the rest of the old bridge was demolished in 1993. The new version of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is strikingly beautiful, and is often used in automobile commercials.
In 1997, a group of (not so smart) adventurers pulled up in a stretch limousine and set up a giant home made group bungee cord system, hooked up and jumped. Someone apparently miscalculated, for the system broke and the men and women went into the drink from about 60 feet above the water, causing broken bones and other injuries. Luckily for the rest of us, other persons were on hand with video equipment and recorded the event for posterity! (The television show Destroyed in Seconds featured this event in 2009.)
In 1999, six telephones were installed on the bridge to provide potential jumpers the opportunity to call a hotline to prevent suicides. Other incidents have taken place where police officers and other have successfully “talked people down.” There have probably been at least a couple murders on the bridge, with people involuntarily “jumping” to their death, and a movie, Loren Cass, was made in 2006 that featured a suicide leap from the bridge.
There have been a few dozen survivors of fall or jumps from the bridge, including a Rottweiller that followed his owner over the side. (Man died, dog lived.) The bridge also appeared in the 2004 version of The Punisher (movie), as well as other films and novels. The US Postal Service even put it on a stamp in 2012.
Bridges often come with disasters and tragedies, while being built or during their life span. When those disasters happen, they become History and Headlines!
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever seen a bridge disaster occur? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
DeYoung, Bill. Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought It Down. University Press of Florida, 2013.
Sitler, Nevin and Ric Sitler. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge:: Spanning Tampa Bay (Landmarks). The History Press, 2013.