MOUNT VERNON, Wash. - An Interstate 5 bridge over a river north of Seattle collapsed Thursday evening, dumping vehicles and people into the water, injuring three people but causing no deaths, the Washington State Patrol said.
The four-lane bridge over the Skagit River collapsed about 7 p.m., Trooper Mark Francis said. The Skagit County Sheriff's Department said three people were rescued from the water and were transported to hospitals. Two were transported to Skagit Valley Hospital and were in stable condition.
State authorities tell the Associated Press there were no fatalities.
While the cause of the collapse is still unknown, witnesses reported seeing a semitruck with an oversized load crossing the bridge and striking a girder before the bridge collapsed.
"I saw it. I was less than 50 feet away from the truck when it hit it," witness Dale Ogden told KING 5 (http://www.king5.com/news/local/Report-I-5-bridge-collapses-over-Skagit-River-cars-in-water-208758631.html).
"I had just passed it in the fast lane southbound and it had an oversized load. It was approximately 12 feet wide and over 14 feet tall. It was in the slow lane when I came by...I was behind the flag car and in front of the truck in the other lane and I saw the whip - normally tells you how high they can clear - start hitting the bridge. I looked in my rear-view mirror, knowing this was not going to turn out well."
"I saw the truck strike the right corner of the bridge. It almost tipped the truck over, but it came back down. It tipped it up to about a 30-degree angle to the left, and it came back down on its wheels -- and almost instantaneously behind that, I saw girders falling in my rear-view mirror."
One of the men pulled from the water was being discharged from Skagit Valley Hospital.
Dan Sligh is in the U.S. Navy stationed at Whidbey Island. He shared with reporters late Thursday night his frightening experience, heading out on a camping trip. He told matter-of-factly of how his shoulder dislocated during the bridge plunge -- then he popped it back in place, so he could unbuckle his seat belt, get out and help his injured wife.
Sligh said he got out of the pickup and held her through the driver side window. They waited 60 to 90 minutes before rescuers were able to safely reach them through the tangled bridge wreckage and taken them to shore.
Sligh said his wife was still in the hospital with some internal bleeding and they were awaiting CT scan results.
Sligh reported seeing the semi truck hit the bridge and said he slammed on his brakes, but couldn't stop in time.
"I thought we were done," he said about the cold river water rushing into the car, filling up to his stomach.
"It was just one of those 'hold on for your life' moments," he said, smiling and saying they were "blessed" to have survived.
Helicopter footage showed several rescue boats at the bridge collapse scene, with several ambulances waiting on the shore and a growing crowd of onlookers. One rescue boat left the scene with one person strapped into a stretcher.
A damaged red car and a damaged pickup truck were visible in the water, which appeared so shallow it barely reached the top of the car's hood.
Crowds of people lined the river to watch the scene unfold.
The bridge is not considered structurally deficient but is listed as being "functionally obsolete" - a category meaning that their design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders are low clearance underneath, according to a database compiled by the Federal Highway Administration.
The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data, but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.
The collapse has halted traffic in both direction on I-5, and southbound traffic was reportedly backed up as far as the Canadian border at Blaine. In Mount Vernon, southbound traffic was being diverted to SR 20, while northbound traffic was being diverted to the East College Way Exit.