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How invisible crack led to world’s worst bridge collapse with road ‘folding like a deck of cards’ and leaving 45 dead

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A SINGLE crack on a bridge left 45 people dead after the crossing collapsed “like a deck of cards”.

Panicked drivers were left screaming for help from the icy waters beneath after the Silver Bridge between West Virginia and Ohio gave way one fateful day in 1967.

A mangled car is removed from the water after the tragedy in December 1967

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A mangled car is removed from the water after the tragedy in December 1967Credit: Getty
Cars plunged into the water when the crossing caved in

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Cars plunged into the water when the crossing caved in
A mountain of rubble being cleared following the tragedy

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A mountain of rubble being cleared following the tragedyCredit: AP
The mother of one of the victims, Melvin, weeps following her son's burial

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The mother of one of the victims, Melvin, weeps following her son’s burialCredit: AP

Freezing temperatures left those who plunged more than 100ft into the water with little hope.

Harrowing witness accounts reveal how commuters were trapped in their cars and frantically tried to escape as water seeped in.

The tragedy claimed 45 lives. Two of the victims have never been found.

Remembered as one of the deadliest bridge collapses in modern history, it sparked sweeping new safety measures to be introduced.

More on the Baltimore bridge

The doomed 1,760-foot long eyebar suspension crossing, officially named the Point Pleasant Bridge but widely known as Silver Bridge due to its aluminum colour, was the first of its kind.

It was rammed with rush-hour traffic when it caved in at around 5pm on December 15, 1967.

Horrified witnesses told the bridge “keeled over, starting slowly on the Ohio side, then folding like a deck of cards to the West Virginia side”.

Some 32 cars were sent plummeting into the icy waters below as their drivers and passengers were left desperately screaming for help.

One witness told a local paper at the time: “There was a big flash and a puff of smoke when the last of the bridge caved in.

“I saw three to four people swimming around in the water screaming.

Two bodies pulled from vehicle at Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse site during search for 6 missing Baltimore victims

“I couldn’t do anything. I just stood there and watched.

“Then I saw a city ice and fuel boat come and pick them up.

“I saw this car float past. It looked like there were people inside beating their hands on the windows.”

Some drivers and passengers miraculously survived as part of the bridge crumbled onto land. Others weren’t as lucky.

Another witness told The Sun Times: “It was one hell of a mess.

“People were crawling out of the cars in all that bridge wreckage [where part of the bridge fell on land] screaming and moaning.

“There were people in the water. We couldn’t see very much, but we could sure hear it.

“There was a tractor-trailer hanging on the riverbank partly in the water.

“The driver was hanging from the open door of the cab, dead.”

Invisible to the naked eye, a fracture in one of the eyebars had sparked this unthinkable tragedy.

Over the course of 39 years, a crack had formed and temperatures in December 1967 made the bridge’s material more brittle than usual.

It caused the fracture to grow down the outer edge – and eventually, the bridge collapsed into the Ohio River.

Haunting images after the collapse showed the damage

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Haunting images after the collapse showed the damage
A cargo ship rammed into Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday

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A cargo ship rammed into Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on TuesdayCredit: AP
The structure collapsed into the water in a matter of seconds

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The structure collapsed into the water in a matter of secondsCredit: AP

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The tragedy promoted a series of reforms in bridge construction and maintenance.

President Lyndon Johnson signed an act calling on the secretary of transportation to develop national bridge inspection standards per state highway departments. 

By 1971, the first list of standards was published.

The tragedy has chilling echoes of the Baltimore bridge collapse this week, which saw the structure fall in a matter of seconds.

Six construction workers were filling in potholes on the bridge in Maryland on Tuesday when it was struck by a cargo ship.

The MV Dali that desperately sent a mayday call before crashing into Francis Scott Key Bridge, was carrying 56 containers with hazardous material including highly flammable chemicals.

Haunting footage shows the entire bridge collapsing into the icy Patapsco River within moments.

All six workers have since been presumed dead, with the bodies of two men being pulled from the river on Wednesday.

Cops had managed to close the bridge at the last second and prevented any other cars from driving onto the falling span.

US investigators are hoping the Black Box-style data recorder that was recovered from the cargo ship will help them find the answers to how the tragedy happened.

Dramatic footage shows the devastating aftermath of the bridge collapse – with pieces of the bridge sticking out from the water.

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