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Accident Report Detail

Collapse of the Northbound U.S. Route 51 Bridge Spans over the Hatchie River

Executive Summary

‚ÄčAbout 8:15 p.m. c.s.t., April 1, 1989, an 85.5-foot-section of the 4,201-foot-long northbound U.S. Route 51 bridge over the Hatchie River fell about 20 feet into the 24-foot deep rain-swollen river after 2 pile supported column bents supporting 3 bridge spans collapsed. Witness reports and physical evidence indicate that the southern column (70) bent and the two spans that it supported fell quickly causing 4 passenger cars and 1 tractor-semitrailer to plunge into the river. The adjacent column bent (71) and the span that it was supporting, then collapsed on top of the vehicles. The river had apparently been at flood stage since November 1988. All eight vehicle occupants died as a result of the collapse.

Probable Cause

‚ÄčThe National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collapse of the northbound U.S. Route 51 Bridge spans was the northward migration of the main river channel which the Tennessee Department of transportation failed to evaluate and correct. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the lack of redundancy in the design of the bridge spans.

Accident Location: Covington , TN    
Accident Date: 4/1/1989
Accident ID: DCA89MH006

Date Adopted: 6/5/1990
NTSB Number: HAR-90-01
NTIS Number: PB90-916201