Morning Newsletter

Boat leaves 300-ft. gap in bridge

The Delta Mariner sat idle Friday at the U.S. 68-Ky. 80 Eggner's Ferry Bridge after it destroyed a 300-foot section when it failed to pass under the span on Kentucky Lake near Golden Pond on Thursday night. The road that connects Land Between the Lakes and Aurora was closed.
The Delta Mariner sat idle Friday at the U.S. 68-Ky. 80 Eggner's Ferry Bridge after it destroyed a 300-foot section when it failed to pass under the span on Kentucky Lake near Golden Pond on Thursday night. The road that connects Land Between the Lakes and Aurora was closed. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A cargo boat that carries space rocket components to Florida's coast for NASA and the Air Force slammed into the aging U.S. 68-Ky. 80 bridge over Kentucky Lake, leaving a 300-foot gap in the span.

The bow of the Delta Mariner was covered Friday in twisted steel and chunks of asphalt from the two-lane bridge, which was the western entrance point to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

The boat hit the bridge Thursday night on its way to Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Gov. Steve Beshear 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.

"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. The ship was traveling on its typical route to Florida's Atlantic coast when it hit the steel bridge, which was built in the 1930s and handles about 2,800 vehicles a day.

Kentucky Lake is part of the Tennessee River, which flows northward from Alabama to the Ohio River near Paducah.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the collision. It's too early to speculate on 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 Rye, a spokeswoman with United Launch Alliance.

Sacco said the ship's typical route to Florida takes it along the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, then down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and on to Florida's east coast.

Sacco said he didn't think that the Delta Mariner has had any major previous incidents.

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, who was on the bridge Thursday night, 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 nearby Cadiz. "It got close."

Parker said he stopped his pickup within 5 feet of the missing section.

Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock visited the crash area Friday.

Transportation Cabinet spokesman Keith Todd told The Paducah Sun he thinks most of the navigational lights were functioning on the bridge at the time of the impact.

The bridge opened in 1932, connecting Trigg County and Marshall County. The transportation cabinet said the bridge was in the process of being replaced, and pre-construction work began months ago.

Traffic that normally uses the bridge will be diverted to the U.S. 62 bridge or the Interstate 24 bridge over the Tennessee River just north of Kentucky Dam. Both are about 20 miles north of the damaged bridge.

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