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Baltimore bridge collapse shares eerie similarities with Tampa Bay’s Skyway disaster

On May 9, 1980, a freighter blinded by bad weather slammed into the Skyway bridge, killing 35 people.
 
A car is halted at the edge of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay after the freighter Summit Venture struck the bridge during a thunderstorm and tore away a large part of the span on May 9, 1980.
A car is halted at the edge of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay after the freighter Summit Venture struck the bridge during a thunderstorm and tore away a large part of the span on May 9, 1980. [ JACKIE GREEN | AP ]
Published March 26|Updated March 29

A cargo ship struck a major bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday morning, causing it to snap and sending vehicles plunging into the chilly waters below.

The ship appears to have crashed into one of the bridge’s support beams during the middle of the night when traffic would be expected to be lighter, according to a video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. The vessel caught fire, and thick, black smoke billowed out of it.

Two people were rescued, and six others were missing and presumed dead.

Nearly 44 years ago, a similar tragedy struck Tampa Bay. On May 9, 1980, the storm-blinded Summit Venture freighter slammed into the support columns of the old Sunshine Skyway bridge. A 1,200-foot span of the bridge collapsed into the water below.

At 7:33 a.m., 35 lives were lost. They died in the six cars, truck and Greyhound bus that fell 150 feet into the water below.

Related: How the Baltimore bridge collapse compares to the fall of the Sunshine Skyway

Here’s a roundup of the Tampa Bay Times’ previous coverage of the disaster.

Death rode in on early morning storm

“I thought at first it was thunder,” said Jay Hirsch, a paramedic with Florida Ambulance Service who was driving north on the bridge. “Then something hit the bridge so hard it knocked my car out of its lane. I kept going till I got across. When I looked back I saw it. My God, the bridge had gone down.”

Read the story that ran on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times on May 10, 1980.

Historic photos capture the aftermath

A car stopped just inches from the edge of the bridge. A mangled Greyhound bus being pulled from Tampa Bay. Wreckage from the bridge atop the bow of the Summit Venture freighter. These are just some of the scenes that photographers captured immediately after the collision.

What readers remembered

“I still remember feeling it was like a Godzilla movie,” Kathy Mahar told the Times in 2020. “A monster reaching up and ripping away a section of the bridge and a Greyhound bus. ... Never have been able to shake that image in my mind.”

Here’s what other readers recalled four decades after the tragedy.

40 years later, divers can’t forget what they saw underwater

Two bridge inspectors helped retrieve victims after the Sunshine Skyway collapsed. In 2020, we spoke to them about what they remembered.

What happened to those who made headlines after the accident?

We caught up with the pilot who crashed, the attorney who defended him and some of those who nearly lost their lives. Here’s what they told us.

Detachment gave way to grim reality

Forty years later, former Times CEO and chairman Paul Tash recalled what it was like to cover the disaster as a young reporter. “Argue if you like, but the Skyway Bridge disaster remains the biggest breaking news story in the history of Tampa Bay,” he wrote. Read the rest of his column here.

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Information from The Associated Press and Tampa Bay Times archives was used in this report.