Bridge partially collapses in southwest Kentucky after being hit by cargo carrier

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- State officials are inspecting what's left of a southwestern Kentucky bridge that partially collapsed after a cargo ship carrying aviation parts struck it late last night.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe says inspectors began the in-depth review of the Eggner Ferry Bridge at U.S. Highway 68 and Kentucky Highway 80 at daylight Friday.

The Delta Mariner struck the main span about 9 p.m. Thursday. No injuries were reported.

Officials say the bridge is closed to traffic, causing vehicles needing to cross the Kentucky Lake reservoir and the Tennessee River to be detoured for dozens of miles. The Coast Guard also blocked access to boat traffic at the bridge site.

Two sections of the bridge over Kentucky Lake collapsed after the boat struck the span.

Search teams in boats from the Aurora Fire Department and Marshall County Rescue Squad reported no indication that vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the barge strike.

A main truss span fell onto the barge, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

No one aboard the tow boat was hurt. 

The bridge carries U.S. 68 and Kentucky 80 between Marshall and Trigg Counties.

The Coast Guard has closed Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River to boat traffic in the area.

Police are urging drivers to stay away as well.

Some pictures seem to show that part of the fallen span is actually clinging to the cargo ship.

The bridge is at the western entrance of the Land Between the Lakes recreation area.  It carries 2,800 vehicles on an average day, the transportation cabinet said.

People that live nearby claim they know what went wrong.

"He didn't even use the main channel. That's the thing. If he'd use the main channel and been real careful, he might have made it. We used to have a pontoon boat here and you know the bigger channels and smaller channels," says Sarah Starks.

It was a close call for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga tennis team, who learned they crossed the bridge just minutes before it collapsed.  

"The roads and the weather were treacherous. The fog was thick. I just remember a couple of guys commenting behind me about how they saw some lights coming up on the bridge. Not that we would have thought anything of it," says coach Carlos Garcia.

They were notified of the crash a few minutes later when checking into their hotel.

"The hair on my arms stood up and kinda get that surreal feeling that perhaps we were one of the lucky ones," says Carlos Garcia.

Friday afternoon, state leaders met to figure out where to go from here.  Engineers are evaluating the stability of the remaining parts of the bridge, and assessing the damage.

An alternate route includes Interstate 24 around the northern end of the Land Between the Lakes.

The bridge opened to traffic in 1932.  It was raised in 1943 to accommodate higher water levels with the formation of Kentucky Lake.

Transportation officials tell WDRB that they already planned to tear the bridge down and build a new bridge in the next 5 to 8 years. That was before this crash even happened.

Now that there's a hole in the bridge, they have to decide whether to repair it, or start building that new bridge even sooner.

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