Published January 27, 2012
AURORA, Ky. – The voyage of a cargo boat that carries space rocket components to Florida's coast for NASA and the Air Force has stalled in a western Kentucky river after it slammed into an aging traffic bridge.
The bow of the Delta Mariner was covered in twisted steel and chunks of asphalt from the two-lane bridge. The boat hit the bridge Thursday night on the Tennessee River on its way to Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has promised speedy work to begin replacing the structure, formerly known as Eggner's Ferry Bridge. The five-story high Delta Mariner was too tall to pass through the portion of the bridge that it struck, and the resulting collision left a 300-foot wide gap.
"We were very fortunate that no one was on the span at that time," Beshear said Friday.
No injuries were reported on the bridge or boat, which was carrying space rocket parts from Decatur, Ala., to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The ship was traveling on its typical route to Florida's Atlantic coast when it hit the aging steel bridge, which was built in the 1930s and handles about 2,800 vehicles a day.
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the collision. And it's too early to speculate on exactly what caused the wreck until that probe is done, said Sam Sacco, a spokesman for ship owner and operator Foss Marine of Seattle.
Sacco said the boat was not severely damaged, and some of the crew remained on the vessel Friday afternoon to make sure the cargo is safe.
Beshear on Friday said an immediate review of options to restore the bridge would take place.
The 312-foot, 8,400-ton Delta Mariner hauls rocket parts for the Delta and Atlas systems to launch stations in Florida and California, according to a statement from United Launch Alliance, which builds the rocket parts in Alabama. The cargo was not damaged in the collision with the bridge, the company said.
The rocket parts are used by the Air Force, NASA and private companies to send satellites into space, said Jessica Frye, a spokeswoman with United Launch Alliance.
Sacco said the ship's typical route to Florida takes it along the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, then onto the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and on to Florida's east coast.
Sacco said he didn't believe that the Delta Mariner has had any major incidents before the collision.
The ship became stuck in a sandbar on the Tennessee River in 2001 during a trip to Decatur, but it was later freed by a river tug after about an hour.
Robert Parker was on the Kentucky bridge Thursday night and said he had to slam on his brakes when he saw a section missing ahead of him.
"All of a sudden I see the road's gone and I hit the brakes," said Parker, who lives in Cadiz. "It got close."
Parker said he stopped his pickup within five feet of the missing section.
Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock were visiting the crash area Friday.
Transportation Cabinet spokesman Keith Todd told The Paducah Sun he believes most of the navigational lights were functioning on the bridge at the time of the impact.
The bridge at US 68 and Kentucky 80 opened in 1932, connecting Trigg County and Marshall County at the western entrance to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The transportation cabinet said the bridge was in the process of being replaced, and pre-construction work began months ago.