Ship hauling rocket parts smashes into Ky. bridge

The Delta Mariner collided with the Eggner Ferry Bridge on Jan. 26, 2012.
WLKY

AURORA, Ky. - Kentucky's governor on Friday promised speedy work to begin replacing a bridge that partially collapsed when it was struck by a cargo ship hauling parts for a space rocket.

Two spans (about 20 feet) of the Eggner Ferry Bridge at US 68 and Kentucky 80 were destroyed Thursday night by the Delta Mariner, which was too tall to pass beneath the structure. No injuries were reported on the bridge or in the boat, which was carrying rocket components from Decatur, Ala., to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The ship was traveling on the Tennessee River on its typical route to Florida's Atlantic coast when it hit the aging steel bridge, which was built in the 1930s and handles about 2,800 vehicles a day.

Ship crash brings down part of Ky. bridge

Inspections by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet have said that besides the sections that are missing, there is some damage on other spans andto the superstructure of the bridge, according to CBS affiliate WLKY in Louisville, Ky.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the collision. And it's too early to speculate on exactly what caused the wreck until that probe is done, said Sam Sacco, a spokesman for ship owner and operator Foss Marine.

Sacco said the boat was not severely damaged, and some of the crew remained on the ship Friday afternoon to make sure the cargo is safe.

Gov. Steve Beshear on Friday said an immediate review of options to restore the bridge would take place.

"We'll turn our attention to a full inspection of the bridge and determine what steps we can take next to speed up the replacement of that important artery," Beshear said.

The 312-foot Delta Mariner hauls rocket parts for the Delta and Atlas systems to launch stations in Florida and California, according to a statement from United Launch Alliance, which builds the rocket parts in Alabama. The cargo was not damaged in the collision with the bridge, the company said.

The rocket parts are used by the Air Force, NASA and private companies to send satellites into space, said Jessica Frye, a spokeswoman with United Launch Alliance.

Sacco said the ship's typical route to Florida takes it along the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, then onto the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and on to Florida's east coast.

According to CBS Radio, four vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collision.

Robert Parker was on the bridge Thursday night and said he had to slam on his brakes when he saw a section missing ahead of him. He says two cars behind him did the same, one almost hitting his bumper.

"All of a sudden I see the road's gone and I hit the brakes," said Parker, who lives in Cadiz. "It got close."

Parker said he stopped his pickup within five feet of the missing section. He said he didn't feel the vessel strike the bridge but "felt the bridge was kind of weak."

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock were visiting the crash area Friday, officials said.

Transportation Cabinet spokesman Keith Todd told The Paducah Sun he believes most of the navigational lights were functioning on the bridge at the time of the impact. However, WLKY reported that a Coast Guard inspection revealed a few lights were out on Tuesday, and were only set to be replaced on Friday.

The bridge opened in 1932, connecting Trigg County and Marshall County at the western entrance to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. According to CBS affiliate WKYT in Lexington, Kentucky, about 3,000 commuters use the bridge every day.

The transportation cabinet said the bridge was in the process of being replaced, and preconstruction work began months ago.