Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse: Here are major US bridge collapses caused by vessels

Francis Scott Key Bridge and Dali

BALTIMORE — The massive container ship that collided with Baltimore’s iconic Francis Scott Key bridge early Tuesday is the latest example of a vessel coming in contact with a span.

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The Associated Press noted that from 1960 to 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to a ship or barge collision, with 18 occurring in the United States. The news organization, citing a 2018 report from the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure, said there were 342 deaths attributed to the 35 collapses.

Here is a look at five notable bridge disasters in the U.S. caused by a ship or barge.

Sunshine Skyway (1980)

On the morning of May 9, 1980, the freighter Summit Venture struck the Sunshine Skyway, which spanned Tampa Bay in west-central Florida. The ship was hindered by poor visibility after a freak storm hit the area.

The vessel slammed into the southbound span of the bridge, causing a support beam to topple, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The collision sent seven vehicles, including a Greyhound bus, plunging into the water below. Thirty-five people died, including 23 on the bus, according to The Washington Post.

Paul Tash, a reporter for the then-St. Petersburg Times who later became the newspaper’s CEO, covered the event that day. In a 2020 column commemorating the disaster, Tash wrote that the incident was “as searing as 9/11 would be to New York and Washington.”

The original bridge had two spans, and the freighter struck the southbound span as it approached from the west.

“There was no way to warn (motorists) or stop them before they got just across the crest and drove off,” Tash wrote.

Big Bayou Canot (1993)

On Sept. 22, 1993, barges pushed by the towboat Mauvilla on a foggy night struck the Big Bayou Canot railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama, reported.

The railroad bridge was displaced, and moments later an Amtrak train carrying 220 people reached the bridge traveling at 72 mph and derailed, according to the news outlet.

Forty-seven people were killed and 103 others were injured, the AP reported.

Survivors were pulled out of a river delta that was so remote, it was nicknamed “America’s Amazon,” according to

Eads Bridge (1998)

Shortly before 8 p.m. local time on April 4, 1998, the Anne Holly towboat was pulling 12 loaded barges and two empty ones upstream on the Mississippi River through the St. Louis Harbor, KSDK-TV reported.

The vessel struck the Missouri-side pier of the Eads Bridge, according a Marine accident report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Eight of the barges broke away and struck the President Casino on the Admiral, a riverboat casino permanently anchored on the riverbank below the bridge, according to the television station.

Fifty people suffered minor injuries, the AP reported.

Queen Isabella Causeway (2001)

On Sept. 15, 2001, a tugboat and barge struck the Queen Isabella Causeway in Port Isabel, Texas. It caused a midsection of the span to fall 80 feet into the bay below, according to the AP.

Eleven people in vehicles on the bridge plunged into the water, KSAT-TV reported. Eight of them were killed, according to the television station.

The disaster was additionally numbing, coming four days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Coast Guard said the cause was pilot error, reported. The current caused the tugboat captain to lose control of a barge that crashed into support pillar, according to the news outlet.

The bridge connecting Port Isabel to South Padre Island was rebuilt and reopened in November 2001, according to NPR. It is now called the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway, KSAT reported.

City officials still hold a memorial event to recall the disaster.

Interstate 40 (2002)

On May 26, 2002, freight barges transported on the Arkansas River hit a pier supporting the Interstate 40 road bridge crossing the waterway at Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, The Oklahoman reported.

The impact during Memorial Day weekend caused the collapse of a 500-foot section of the road, sending vehicles into the water. Fourteen people were killed and 11 were injured.

A bronze-and-granite memorial structure was built to honor the people who died, according to KTUL-TV. Th memorial depicts a clock frozen at the time of the accident and a child releasing a dove.

In a bizarre postscript, The Oklahoman reported that William James Clark, a Missouri resident who claimed to be a U.S. Army officer “in charge” at the scene, interfered with recovery efforts.

Clark, wearing military fatigues, introduced himself to workers at the site and even gave interviews to reporters, according to the newspaper. He went to the Webbers Falls city hall with relief workers and allegedly began photographing the personal effects of victims, including credit cards and identifications, The Oklahoman reported.

He was indicted several weeks later, according to the newspaper.

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