Salvage planning is underway as federal and state authorities continue their investigation into what caused a cargo vessel carrying Air Force and NASA hardware to knock down a section of an aging steel bridge near Paducah, KY.
Seattle-based Foss Maritime, owner of the Delta Mariner, which rammed through the bridge last week, said Monday that it had submitted a draft plan to the U.S. Coast Guard to conduct salvage operations at the wrecked Eggner’s Ferry Bridge on the Tennessee River.
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|“It is a wonder that someone was not killed,” Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Keith Todd said after the Delta Mariner rammed the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge, over the Tennessee River.|
The Delta Mariner, with a 16-member crew, rammed through a 322-foot section of the bridge shortly after 8 p.m. CST Thursday (Jan. 26), authorities said. Although at least four vehicles were on the bridge at the time, no one on the bridge or the ship was injured in the accident.
Photos clearly show a huge section of the bridge hanging from the vessel’s bow. However, Foss said that the ship’s hull was not significantly damaged.
The accident caused no environmental damage to the waterway, authorities say.
Air Force Cargo
The 312-foot cargo carrier vessel was headed from Decatur, AL, to Cape Canaveral, FL, when it rammed the bridge, which is part of US 68/KY 80 at the western entrance to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.
|The crash took out a section of the bridge more than 300 feet long, officials said.|
The vessel was carrying an Atlas booster and Centaur upper stage for the Air Force's AEHF-2 mission, scheduled to launch in April, and an interstage adapter for NASA's RBSP mission scheduled to launch in August, according to a statement from San Diego-based United Launch Alliance, which had contracted with Foss to transport the shipment.
Neither the ship’s cargo area nor the flight hardware were damaged, although instrument data are still being reviewed, ULA said.
Foss said it was bringing in a piece of equipment called an Echoscope that uses sonar to create a 3D image of the ship’s hull, debris field, and bottom contour of the waterway. That data will help the company finalize its salvage plan, which requires Coast Guard approval.
After the plan is approved, Foss will remove the section of bridge that is still resting on the ship and the ship will be moved for repair. Two crane barges and other equipment will be used to remove bridge debris from the river.
T&T Bisso, of Houston, TX, will oversee the salvage operation, Foss said.
Ship in Recreational Channel
The Coast Guard, which manages the waterway, is conducting the investigation in cooperation with the National Transportation Safety Board. Coast Guard investigators boarded the ship shortly after the crash and interviewed the crew and pilot.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have also been involved in the emergency response and in continuing assessments and support.
|The Coast Guard said the barge went through the recreational channel, rather than the shipping channel it had used before.|
The Coast Guard said the ship had hit the bridge while trying to pass through the recreational channel, which has a lower clearance than the shipping channel normally used by the vessel. The Delta Mariner is 50 feet tall and 82 feet wide.
“It is a wonder that someone was not killed,” KYTC spokesman Keith Todd told SurfKY news.
The Coast Guard reopened part of the river on Saturday (Jan. 28) after the Corps of Engineers deemed the navigable channel safe for commercial transit, operating at reduced speeds. The all-clear followed a channel survey Friday evening that found no obstructions or debris, the Coast Guard said.
Recreational traffic is still prohibited.
“The Army Corps of Engineers have been a crucial partner in assuring that the channel is clear of debris and helping us get commerce moving,” said Cmdr. Claudia Gelzer, commanding officer of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Paducah.
Lighting, Fog Cited
“We continue to focus on a comprehensive investigation to determine the cause of this accident and working with the ship's owner on a safe salvage plan,” said Gelzer.
News reports speculated on low visibility with nighttime fog and missing navigational lights on the bridge. Todd said, however, that the lights facing the vessel were operational.
Foss Maritime said the crew and vessel had made the same trip “numerous times over the past 10 years” without incident.
Several vehicles on the bridge at the time were able to stop just before reaching the gap.
Robert Parker, 51, of Cadiz, KY, told the Associated Press that he and his wife had been driving in the rain along the darkened bridge when they suddenly noticed the break.
“All of a sudden, I see the road's gone and I hit the brakes,” he said. “It got close.”
Parker stopped his pickup within five feet of the missing section, the AP reported. Two cars behind him stopped on his bumper, and he saw another car on the other side of the missing section stopped.
Loss of the span, which carries US 68/KY 80, will mean a 30-mile detour for the 2,800 vehicles that cross it daily.
The bridge opened to traffic in 1932. Its elevation was raised in 1943 when the Tennessee River was impounded to create Kentucky Lake. The bridge was due to be replaced in several years, but the crash seemed certain to accelerate those plans.
“Since that bridge carries 2,800 cars every day, we were very fortunate that no one was on the span at that time,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. “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.”