MV Summit Venture collides with Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The southbound span of the original bridge (built in 1969) was destroyed at 7:33 a.m. on May 9, 1980, when the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a pier (support column) during a storm, sending over 1200 feet (366m) of the bridge plummeting into Tampa Bay. The collision caused six automobiles and a Greyhound bus to fall 150 feet (46 m), killing 35 people.
One man, Wesley MacIntire, survived the fall when his Ford pickup truck landed on the deck of the Summit Venture before falling into the bay. He sued the company that owned the ship, and settled for $175,000 in 1984. For the remaining nine years of his life until he died in 1989, MacIntire was haunted by the fact that he was the only one to survive the fall from the collapsing bridge.
The pilot of the ship, John Lerro, was cleared of wrongdoing by both a state grand jury and a Coast Guard investigation.
After the Summit Venture disaster, the northbound span carried one lane in either direction until the current bridge opened. Before the old bridge was demolished and hauled away in barges, MacIntire (the sole survivor of the collapse) was the last person permitted to drive over it. He was accompanied by his wife, and when they reached the top of the bridge, they dropped 35 white carnations into the water, one for each person who lost a life in the disaster. The main span of the northbound bridge was demolished in 1993 and the approaches for both old spans were made into the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park. These approaches sit 1/2 mile (0.8 km) to the south and west of the current bridge.
Graham's idea for the design of the current bridge won out over other proposals, including a tunnel (deemed impractical due to Florida's high water table) and a simple reconstruction of the broken section of the old bridge that would not have improved shipping conditions. The new bridge's main span is 50% wider than the old bridge. The piers of the main span and the approaches for 1/4 mile (0.4 km) in either direction are surrounded by large concrete barriers called "dolphins" that can protect the bridge piers from collisions with ships larger than the Summit Venture like tankers, container ships and cruise ships.
We all got out. We were on a sharp incline toward the water. I stuck my fingers through the grating and began to crawl away. I looked back, and Hornbuckle was still by the car. I yelled at him, "What are you still doing there?' He said he was going back for his golf clubs.”— Anthony Gattus, witness to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Accident
The sole survivor among 36 people who plunged 150 feet into Tampa Bay when part of the Sunshine Skyway collapsed four years ago has settled a lawsuit against owners of the ship that struck the bridge. The survivor, Wesley C. MacIntire, 58 years old, a Gulfport truck driver, is to receive $175,000 from the owners of the ship, the Summit Venture.