Mom Blog

A Very Scary Bridge Story: The Collapse of the Sunshine Skyway

The WordPress #WordPrompt for this month is “bridge,” and when I think about bridges I can’t help but remember the day the unthinkable happened: the Sunshine Skyway, a bridge I traveled over many times, was struck by a freighter and collapsed into the Tampa Bay. It’s something that fueled my nightmares as a kid, and left me with an uneasy feeling when crossing any large bridge still to this day.

Crossing the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge

The Sunshine Skyway is Falling Down…Falling Down

It was May 9th, 1980, and my 5-year-old self was waiting for my stepdad to make it home from Tampa. It was storming and he was running late. On his way back to Sarasota, he had to cross the 15-mile long Sunshine Skyway bridge, a bridge so long that there were signs warning you to make sure you had enough gas to get all the way over it.

With no cell phones or social media, my mom and I had no idea what happened until later that day. I don’t recall if he called, or if we saw it on the news, but I just remember the feeling of being scared and hoping he made it home ok after hearing a large section of the bridge had collapsed after being struck by a freighter.

The Perfect Storm

The crash was blamed on the weather and human error. The rain and fog were so dense that the captain of the ship the Summit Venture didn’t see the bridge until the bow of the ship was about to crash right into it. And with no bumper system or motorist warning system in place, a truck, six cars and a Greyhound bus shot over the edge and plummeted 150 ft into the bay below. There was one survivor who went over the edge, and 35 people who died that day.

A Lasting Impression

People still needed to use the bridge to cross the bay, and only one side of the bridge had been struck, so all traffic was rerouted to go both ways over the side that remained. I will never forget crossing that bridge and watching in horror as we passed the mangled remains of the side that collapsed. It freaked me out even more to see that people were using that broken side to go fishing- for sharks!

I don’t know how long we had to use just the one side, but they kept it that way until the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge was built next to the old one. The approaches to the old bridge were left in place and converted into the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, also known as the longest fishing pier in the world.

We recently crossed over the bridge while visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and stopped to take pictures with the new bridge in the background. I’ve talked to many people who live in Tampa that have never heard of the Skyway collapsing, which surprised me. But I don’t think anyone who grew up in that area, especially those that travelled over the bridge while the broken one was still up, will ever forget the day the Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapsed.

The new Sunshine Sky Bridge in the background

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