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NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on the Skagit River Bridge Collapse

Federal investigators have released a preliminary report about last month’s I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River in Washington state.

What’s new in the report is a piece of information about the driver of the truck that struck the bridge.

The bridge collapsed on May 23 after a truck carrying an oversized load hit supports along the top.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the truck driver told investigators that he felt "crowded" by another semitruck that was trying to pass him on the left, so he moved to the right.

That confirms eyewitness accounts. One of them was Dan Sligh.  Here’s what he told KING 5 News the night of the crash: “And at the last minute, there was a second semi that came up on the left side it appeared, like it almost pinned that truck in, from being able to come in left, at that point the wide load caught the right side of the bridge. there was a loud ‘boom’, a big puff of dust it appeared.”

And shortly after that puff of dust the bridge span fell into the Skagit River.

The right lane had less clearance than the left lane. And the NTSB has previously said the oversized load could probably have crossed the bridge safely if it had been in the left lane. But the agency is still working to verify that.

The new information raises questions about bridge safety and truck regulations.  For example, if there had been a pilot car trailing the wide load, it could have prevented the second semi from passing. But that wasn’t required under current regulations.

Jim Wright is WSDOT’s program manager for oversized loads. He said pilot cars that follow oversized loads have an important role. “They tell the operator of the transport vehicle, traffic that’s approaching from the rear. And then if need be they can close off a lane so that transport vehicle can move over into that lane.”

The load that hit the bridge was too small to require a rear pilot vehicle under current rules.

The NTSB continues to investigate. And a WSDOT spokesman says they have no comment until the federal investigation is complete.

Copyright 2013 Northwest News Network

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