Thruway bridge collapse, 30 years later

April 05, 2017 06:26 PM

FORT HUNTER -- It was a Sunday morning.  April 5, 1987.  The Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek collapsed.

10 people died.  Vehicles went down into the churning water more than 80 feet below.

Chris Brunner was a reporter at the time.

"The state police were there, but what could they do?  The bridge was gone.  The center spans were gone and people were just kind of standing around going, wow, what happened?" he said.

He interviewed Marlin Stanley, one of the people who screamed and waved at approaching drivers to stop.

We spoke to Stanley again this week.  

"Happy that we were able to get some people to stop," he said.  "And that that tractor-trailer driver was so observant."

Since the collapse, he and his daughter, Sherry Kline, have been honored for their efforts saving lives.

"We just kind of looked at each other and said, oh my God, these people don't know that the bridge is out," she said.

Then-governor Mario Cuomo was also at the scene.

"Study this situation in terms of what does it teach us about the likelihood of this being repeated somewhere else in this state?" he said at the time.

Changes soon followed, not just statewide, but also across the country.

"The bigger story, too, was the collapse of the Schoharie Creek Bridge on the Thruway also touched off a real awakening around the country because people started going, are we paying any attention to our bridges?  Could this happen here?" said Brunner.

Investigators say the collapse was caused by problems with design and construction, plus poor inspections and maintenance.

Today, all publicly-owned highway bridges are required to be inspected at least once every two years, more if they meet certain criteria.

The Federal Highway Administration mandated underwater inspections of bridge supports once every five years.
Standards have changed on new bridge design in an effort to eliminate scour vulnerabilities.

Kline remembers the day she warned drivers and was approached by one of them 30 years ago.

"He just said are you the people that were on the bridge, waving and stopping traffic?" she remembered.  "And I said yes, we were.  And he said everything I have and everything I love is in that vehicle.  Thank you."

To look at safety ratings of the bridges you use and other data, here's the link to New York State Highway Bridge Data:

More information:

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Kumi Tucker

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