A trucker hauling massive drilling equipment clipped the Interstate 5 Bridge as he crossed the Skagit River with his oversized load on Thursday May 23, sending a chunk of the span, and two cars carrying three people, into the frigid waters below.
All three survived the plunge—a University of British Columbia student and a couple who were going camping for the long holiday weekend.
The student, 20-year-old Bryce Kenning, was driving to Bellingham, Washington, to play hockey when the bridge collapsed in front of him. About 60 miles north of Seattle and 40 miles south of the Canadian border, the bridge is used by more than 70,000 commuters daily.
“All of a sudden there was a huge explosion, and the ground of the bridge started falling into the water,” he told Seattle television station KOMO, according to CTV News. When the airbags deployed and the car started filling with water, he said, “I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”
He managed to open the door and climb onto his car’s roof, where he was rescued along with Dan Sligh and his wife, who were heading to a camping trip and had fallen 25 feet from the bridge along with their pickup truck and camper.
The truck that police said caused the bridge to collapse—an assertion that the driver’s wife, interviewed by CBC News, said seemed unlikely—belonged to a Calgary-based company and was driven by 41-year-old William Scott, who lives near Edmonton, Alberta. Police said the truck was carrying heavy drilling equipment when it smacked into a steel support beam, and they said that was what brought the entire bridge crumbling down.
The bridge had been declared “functionally obsolete,” the AP reported. That is, its design was somewhat outdated, with narrow shoulders and low clearance, but it was considered sound.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee said repairs would cost at least $15 million.
I-5 is a major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada, and is key to international trade for both the U.S. and Canada, a congressman from the area said.
"This bridge is an important economic lifeline,” U.S. Representative Rick Larsen, whose district is just south of the bridge, told the Associated Press. “It's not just about Skagit Valley's economy, or Washington state's economy. It's about the West Coast economy and international trade.”