Point Pleasant observes anniversary of Silver Bridge collapse - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Point Pleasant observes anniversary of Silver Bridge collapse

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It's the evening of Dec. 15, 1967, when Ruth Fout is wrapping up her work day at a Point Pleasant insurance agency.

Little did she know that one of the worst disasters in West Virginia history was unfolding only a block away from the her downtown office.

"I remember the evening well," said Fout, now an administrative assistant at the Point Pleasant River Museum. "We were putting on our coats as we were getting ready to leave. We heard a noise, but didn't know what it was. The lights went off."

The chilling details were provided minutes later by the husband of a co-worker.

"He said, ‘The bridge fell,'" recalled Fout.

Only moments earlier, he had crossed the span connecting Point Pleasant with Gallipolis, Ohio. Sensing that something was wrong, he had watched helplessly as the bridge, crowded with rush hour holiday traffic, crashed into the cold waters of the Ohio River.

"It affected everyone, whether they had a loved one, a friend or someone that they knew close that was on it," she said. "I had two neighbors (at the time) who lost their lives. There are five people who live close to me now who lost a parent on the bridge. It was a very tragic time for people."

For those reasons - the 46 lives lost - Fout said that she believes it's important for Point Pleasant to remember. The museum will host the "45th Remembrance of the Collapse of the Silver Bridge" on the anniversary of the disaster at 2 p.m. Dec. 15.

"We're trying to keep the history of the Silver Bridge alive for future generations and also to remember those who lost their lives in that tragic event," Fout said. "We have students who come into the museum say that they had a grandparent who lost their life on the bridge and we've had a lot of people who were involved come back. They feel a comfort in coming here."

Speakers will include Pastor Roger Bonecutter, who operated a towboat on the river, and Rudy O'Dell, a retired state trooper who was the first law enforcement officer to arrive on the scene.

Co-authors of the book "The Silver Bridge Disaster of 1967" will be attending. It was written by Stephan Bullard and Bridget Gromek along with co-authors Martha and Ruth Fout.  

Families of the victims are encouraged to attend and participate in a candle lighting ceremony.

Investigators ruled the 1928 span collapsed due to a small defect in a single eyebar of a suspension chain. Analysis showed that the bridge was carrying much heavier loads than it had originally been designed for and was poorly maintained.

The replacement Silver Memorial Bridge was completed in 1969 and dedicated on the second anniversary of the disaster.