WHILE MANY HAVE heard of the Skyway disaster, most haven’t heard of another tragedy that occurred at the bridge not long before. In January 1980, the Coast Guard vessel, Blackthorn, collided with an oil tanker & sank. The result was the loss of 23 Guardsmen. Unfortunately, this tragedy would be overshadowed by the collapse just 4 short months later.
A PERFECT STORM
MAY 9TH,1980 was a stormy day in Tampa Bay. That morning, commuters traveling over the Skyway were met with limited visibility due to the gray sky & steady rain. Drivers had to focus on the road ahead as they crossed the bridge, making them unaware of what was about to happen below them. As people made their way across the Southbound span of the bridge, the 608-foot freighter, that was bounding through the bay below, was met with the same conditions. The Summit Venture was heading to Tampa to pick up a load of Phosphate when the wind began to gust & the rain became heavy. The ship’s captain had absolutely no visibility & by the time he realized how close he was to the Skyway, it was too late. At 7:38 am, the Freighter slammed into several of the bridge supports, severely damaging one & shearing off another 10 feet above the water line. The supports located under the central span collapsed, causing the metal grates of the Southbound lanes above to begin twisting until the section to dangle at such a severe angle that stopping would be nearly impossible.
IN TOTAL SIX cars, a pickup truck & a Greyhound Bus would ultimately fall from the bridge.
THE DRIVER OF the pickup, Wesley MacIntire, would be the only person to survive falling into the Bay. MacIntire recalled hitting the brakes of his Ford Courier Truck, however, he had already began the decent down. The vehicle would strike the Summit Venture, roll off & land in the water, rapidly sinking with MacIntire still firmly belted into the driver’s seat. Fortunately for him, he was a former Navy Seal. The extensive training he’d received helped him to escape a watery grave & get to the surface where he was rescued.
ANOTHER PERSON WHOSE life was spared was that of Richard Hornbuckle. Hornbuckle’s yellow sedan had been following behind the Greyhound Bus & upon seeing the bus go over the edge of the collapsed section of bridge, he quickly laid on his brakes. The car finally screeched to a stop just 14 inches from the edge, saving him from the same fate as the bus & other vehicles that went over before him.
TRAGICALLY 35 OTHERS would not be so lucky. Among the victims were at least 15 students from the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) traveling on the Greyhound Bus.
The following is a list of those who perished that day:
MICHAEL CURTAIN, 43
DUANE ADDERLY, 21 (Tuskegee Student)
LOUIS LUCAS, JR., 62
YVONNE JOHNSON, 22 (Tuskegee Student)
WANDA McGARRAH, 24
MANESHA McGARRAH, 7 mos (infant daughter of Wanda McGarrah)
SHARON DIXON, 21 (Tuskegee Student)
MYRTLE BROWN, 58 (one of 4 traveling together from Newfoundland.)
WILLIS BROWN, 57 (one of 4 traveling together from Newfoundland…Husband of Myrtle Brown.)
AUBREY HUDSON, 62 (one of 4 traveling together from Newfoundland.)
PHYLLIS HUDSON, 58 (one of 4 traveling together from Newfoundland…Wife of Aubrey Hudson.)
JOHN CARLSON, 47
DORIS CARLSON, 42 (wife of John Carlson.)
TAWANA McCLENDON, 20 (Tuskegee Student)
CHARLES COLLINS, 40
LESLIE COLEMAN JR., 52
JAMES PRYOR, 42
JOHN CALLAWAY JR., 19 (Tuskegee Student)
HORACE LEMMONS, 47
GERDA HEDQUIST, 92
LOUISE JOHNSON, 59
MELBOURNE RUSSELL, 38
ROBERT HARDING, 63
ALPHONSO BLIDGE, 22 (Tuskegee Student)
MARGUERITE MATHISON, 82
SANDRA DAVIS, 34
HILDRED DIETCH, 73
HARRY DIETCH, 68 (husband of Hildred Dietch.)
LILLIAN LOUCKS, 69
ANN PONDY, 57
BRENDA GREEN, 19 (Tuskegee Student)
DELORES SMITH, 50
ROBERT SMITH, 37
LAVERNE DANIELS, 20 (Tuskegee Student)
WOODROW TRIPLETT, 33
IT WOULD TAKE 7 years after the collapse before a new bridge would finally be opened. The “Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge” would be 430 feet tall at its peak, almost 4 times the height of its predecessor, & have a total of 4 lanes. One of its most distinguishable features are the large cables that are bright yellow & light up at night.
ALTHOUGH MOST OF what remained of the Old Skyway Bridge was demolished, some was able to be saved. It would eventually be converted into the Skyway Fishing Pier.
ON MAY 9TH, 2015, 35 years after the collapse, a 6-foot tall granite & marble memorial would be placed just North of the new bridge. A dedication ceremony was held in Blackthorn Park to reveal the monument. In attendance were many family members & friends of the victims. A number of people would speak about the loved ones they lost that day.
MAY 9TH OF 2022 marked the 42nd anniversary of the Skyway Bridge Collapse. Fortunately, there haven’t been any major accidents surrounding the bridge since 1980, however, tragedy has continued to surround the Skyway in other forms…
TO BE CONTINUED….
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TBT (Tampa Bay Times)