Silver Bridge Disaster

Charleston Daily Mail
December 16, 1967

Bridge Fell Like Card Deck; Fantastic, Witnesses Relate

Associated Press Writer

GALLIPOLIS, Ohio (AP) - It was a slow night for selling Christmas trees. H. L. Whobrey had a good location - at the corner of highways 7 and 35, catching all the bridge traffic from Point Pleasant, W.Va. - but it was cold, and most of the steady stream of commuters passed him by.

He made his first sale, and was just loading a tree in the trunk of a woman's car when he hear the noise.

"It sounded like one of those ordinary fender benders on the bridge," he said. "We have them all the time."

Dick Kuhn was filling a customer's car with gasoline at the corner service station when he heard what "sounded like a shotgun," he said. "I thought some nut was shooting ducks under the bridge."

Lee Long was taking a coffee break at the Gallipolis Fire Department when the alarm came in.

The tragedy of a bridge collapsing brought these three men together. They were among the first witnesses - and the shock of it still glazed their eyes hours later.

"I saw it, but I don't believe it," said Whobrey. "The bridge just keeled over, starting slowly on the Ohio side then following like a deck of cards to the West Virginia side.

"It was fantastic. There was a big flash and a puff of smoke when the last of the bridge caved in. I guess the power line snapped.

"I saw three to four people swimming around in the water screaming. I couldn't do anything. I just stood there and watched. Then I saw a city ice and fuel boat come and pick them up.

"There was a lot of junk floating around. I saw this car float past. It looked like there were people inside beating their hands on the windows."

Whobrey said he saw the last driver who got off the bridge before it collapsed.

"He parked in my Christmas tree lot. He looked like a ghost. He just sat there - then he was sick right in the car."

Kuhn ran to the riverbank behind his service station and, saw a truck floating past.

"There was a guy hanging onto the roof yelling his head off. I think they got him off."

Long, a fire department veteran, was one of the first rescuers at the scene.

"It was one hell of a mess," he said. "People were crawling out of the cars in all that bridge wreckage (where part of the bridge fell on land) screaming and moaning. There were people in the water. We couldn't see very much, but we could sure hear it.

"There was a tractor-trailer rig hanging on the riverbank, partly in the water. The driver was hanging from the open door of the cab, dead.

"Then we heard this banging from the back. We yelled and it was the driver's partner who'd been sleeping in the back.

"We worked two hours to cut him out of there. He was yelling at us all the time to get him out of there. I guess he thought that the trailer was going to slip into the water.

"But when we got him out, he was okay. Standing there naked except for his shorts. Man, was he shivering.

"Then he saw his partner, and he just broke up."


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