The storm that caused a dredge to crash into the Bonner Bridge in North Carolina was much worse than weather forecasts had predicted, according to a statement by the dredge's captain.
In written accounts to the Coast Guard, the 10 men aboard the dredge described a terrifying tale of the Oct. 26 accident that severed a 370-foot section of the 2.5-mile-long bridge across Oregon Inlet that was the only land link for residents of Hatteras Island, N.C. No one was injured in the bridge collapse.The Northerly Island, owned by North American Trailing Co. of Chicago, was under a $588,000 contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain a navigation channel though the inlet.
Capt. William O. Cliett said in a statement to the Marine Safety Office in Norfolk, which is investigating the collision, that on Oct. 25 he decided to quit dredging for the day and drop anchor. The sea condition ``was becoming rough' and the weather forecast called for 25- to 35-knot winds that night, Cliett said.
Mate Ricky McClenton said the forecast wasn't unusual. Cliett said the location at which he chose to drop anchor ``was the same anchorage we customarily used in these conditions.'
Within hours, though, the weather was ferocious, ``well beyond the conditions which had been forecast,' Cliett wrote in the statements obtained by The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star under the Freedom of Information Act.
Cliett said seas were running 3-5 feet, the current was at least 6 knots and winds were 45-55 knots with gusts above.
The captain said he realized the dredge was dragging anchor about 10:30 p.m. and ordered the vessel's engines brought to full power. He also ordered that the dredge's ballast tanks be pumped full of water in hopes of keeping the barge grounded on a shallow shoal.
``Unfortunately the current and tide caused the shoal to erode, allowing the vessel to continue to drag sideways toward the bridge,' Cliett wrote.
At 12:50 a.m., Cliett notified the Coast Guard to close the bridge to traffic. Twenty minutes later the dredge hit the bridge for the first time. By 2:40 a.m. five spans of the bridge were gone.
Four of the crew members climbed up the dredge's superstructure onto the bridge and were carried to safety off the span by Dare County sheriff's deputies minutes before it collapsed.