KANAUGA, Ohio — Approaching 52 years later, pieces of the Silver Bridge Collapse are being recovered by the West Virginia Department of Transportation along the banks of the Ohio River in Kanauga, Ohio.
The disaster wreckage that gained national attention and claimed the lives of 46 individuals in the freezing waters of the Ohio on December 15, 1967 is being pulled from mud and overgrowth on the banks of 612 State Route 7.
“I’ve had a lot of people asking why it’s still here,” said landowner Terry Burnett. “I don’t know. Grandpa couldn’t get it removed and Dad couldn’t get it removed. My family owned the land and I do now. My grandparents and parents lived here. I’ve been here since 1960.”
Burnett said she retired and getting the disaster wreckage cleared had been on her “bucket list” for years.
“There was a gal here from North Carolina and she brought her father-in-law back,” said Burnett. “He was actually hanging on the outside of a truck when he was rescued (during the disaster), a tractor trailer. She convinced me to go to West Virginia for the collapse’s 50th anniversary, so I did. We thought there might be someone there that might listen to me.”
Burnett was able to establish contact with West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Highways District One Bridge Engineer Tracy Brown. She sent him photos of the remaining wreckage around her property and neighboring property.
“It’s hard to tell what’s in the water still but it’s on the land and the water,” said Burnett. “There’s a car down there somewhere too.”
Burnett said some of the wreckage being cleared could be found on the adjoining property also owned by the Hall family. An agreement was made with WVDOH to retrieve the wreckage and crews started work Monday at 9 a.m.
“It’s history,” said Brown. “This started the bridge inspection program nationwide. I always say that for someone who works in bridges coming here to Point Pleasant and Gallipolis is like visiting the Holy Land. That’s our equivalent because this is where our work started. There wasn’t even a bridge department in the (WVDOH) districts until this happened. Now each district has a bridge inspection program and engineer that has to make national standards.”
“We want to display (the recovered wreckage) in a particular way so that future bridge engineers, inspectors and designers remember this,” said Brown. “It’s something that they need to remember so that they know the history of how important this work is and what the results are when you don’t put the importance on it that it deserves. There can be no mistakes in this line of work. This is what happens when you make a mistake. We’re hoping to put (the remains) in a prominent location where it stands out. Maybe a sidewalk leading into our headquarters in Charleston (W.Va.) with a plaque telling some of the history of the bridge or something like that.”
Brown said roughly an eighth of an inch fracture in an eyebar of the Silver Bridge caused a chain reaction which resulted in it falling into the Ohio River as drivers were attempting to pass over the bridge in rush hour traffic during the holiday season.
Burnett said she would be happy to see the wreckage gone and in the hands of people who could appreciate and spread its lessons.
The Silver Bridge was built in 1928 and was considered an eyebar-chain suspension bridge noted for its silver color. The Silver Memorial Bridge, built to replace the Silver Bridge, was completed in 1969.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.