Mystery Vehicle Recovered From Mississippi River After Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

Authorities say no bodies were found inside a crushed car that search crews pulled out of the murky Mississippi River Saturday and officials said it was the only car they had found in which the passengers were unaccounted for.

Families of the missing continued to wait for word that any bodies had been found in the Mississippi River. The number of dead stands at five, and at least eight victims are believed trapped in the wreckage.

Under police escort, families of the missing were bused late Saturday afternoon from a Red Cross center to the disaster site. When the doors opened, about 40 people streamed out and went straight to the edge, a few with arms wrapped around each other's shoulders.

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Most appeared silent, while a few pointed at the collapsed bridge. After no more than 10 minutes, they reboarded the buses, some hugging as they left to return to the temporary Red Cross center.

The missing include Christine Sacorafas, 45, a recent transplant to Minnesota who was on her way to teach a Greek folk dancing class; Greg Jolstad, 45, a construction worker who was operating a skid loader on the bridge; Peter Hausmann, 47, a former missionary heading to pick up a friend; and Somali immigrant Sadiya Sahal, 23, a pregnant nursing student traveling with her 2-year-old daughter, Hanah.

Divers were being pulled out of the water occasionally so crews could remove debris or assist National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

"Diving operations are continuing, and they will continue until tonight unless the weather goes south on us," said Sgt. Tracey Martin of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

A detailed examination of the wreckage around the southern end of the bridge led investigators to conclude "that is probably not where the event began," said Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The southern end shifted 81 feet (25 meters) during the collapse.

As a result, he said investigators would use a helicopter mounted with a high-resolution camera — equipment like that used by Hollywood film crews — to look for points where the metal was cut, sheared or pulled on the northern end.

• Click here to read about victims of the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

Rosenker also said the FBI had completed mapping the debris field, which will allow the state transportation department to begin removing cars from the fallen bridge's deck, as well as the deck itself.

Of the roughly 100 injured, 24 remained hospitalized Saturday, five in critical condition.

President George W. Bush took an aerial tour of the damage Saturday morning, then went to the scene to speak with a construction worker who helped rescue children. After walking around the site, Bush went to a makeshift command post where he spoke with the families of two victims, as well as first responders and rescue workers.

Bush praised the divers and all those who rushed to help victims of Wednesday's collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge, a major Twin Cities artery.

The president also pledged to help expedite the bridge's reconstruction. The eight-lane bridge, which came tumbling within seconds during evening rush hour, once carried 141,000 vehicles a day.

State transportation officials set an ambitious timetable for rebuilding the bridge, announcing Saturday they hoped to award a contract in September and have the project completed by the end of 2008 — about 15 months.

A memorial service with songs and prayers for the victims was set for 7 p.m. Sunday. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Mayor R.T. Rybak encouraged Minnesotans to attend and honor the families and first responders.

The bridge was deemed "structurally deficient" by the federal government as far back as 1990, and inspections over the years had raised alarm, with findings of rust-eaten steel beams, missing bolts and cracks in the welding that held load-bearing parts together.

State bridge engineer Dan Dorgan said he made the final decision to monitor the bridge's weaknesses through regular inspections but not take more drastic measures, such as bolstering the trusses with steel plates, which he feared could have worsened the structural problems. His staff and consultants ultimately backed that call, he said.

After the collapse, federal officials ordered states to immediately inspect bridges of similar designs. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Saturday that those inspections had not found any immediate problems.