NEW ORLEANS — A construction worker was killed and three others were injured when a portion of the new Twin Span Bridge over Lake Pontchartrain collapsed Thursday.
Emergency officials at the scene tell WDSU that dive crews have found the body of a man missing in the collapse. A crane to lifted a girder, which had trapped the body under water, before the body was able to be moved.
As dusk fell over Lake Pontchartrain, an ambulance rolled away with the body of the deceased worker found by St. Tammany Parish divers beneath debris from the new bridge that broke off and fell into the water.
In all, 10 workers from Boh Brothers Construction fell into the lake, and nine of them were quickly rescued. The accident happened at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday on a portion of the new bridge about 3 miles from the St. Tammany Parish side of the lake.
“The 10 men that were on the girder fell about 30 to 35 feet,” St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain said. “Nine were recovered pretty quickly from the water using Boh Brothers equipment and St. Tammany Parish rescue boats.”
Police tell WDSU that the workers were standing on a girder already in place on the newly constructed bridge. That girder, which was about 135 feet long and weighed 70 tons, somehow fell into the water.
“Of all the workers I’ve spoken to, no one has seen anything like this before,” St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain.
Vic Gremillion of Boh Brothers said an investigation into the cause of the accident is underway.
Two of the workers were taken to Slidell Memorial Hospital and one was taken to Lakeview Hospital. The other six refused medical treatment.
“Obviously they don’t want to flood one hospital with all the victims,” Strain said. “The most serious of the triage that they did at the time was determined to go to the Western side of the parish, and he is the one that we believe had the broken arm.”
None of the injuries were considered to be life-threatening.
The water is about 8 to 10 feet deep where the accident happened, police said. Investigators aren’t sure whether the missing worker was tethered to the construction equipment at the time of the accident.
The Twin Span project broke ground in July of 2006 and is scheduled for completion in 2011. However, the westbound span — from Slidell to New Orleans — is set to open to traffic in mid- to late 2009.
The $800 million project is funded by the federal government. When complete, the new spans will each carry three lanes of traffic on a 5.5-mile journey across the lake.
The old Twin Span, which has been in use since the 1960s and sustained major damage during Hurricane Katrina, will be dismantled.
“All construction work on the project has ceased until we do an investigation to find out what happened,” said Gordon Nelson of the State Department of Transportation.
State and federal authorities were investigating the deadly accident Thursday night.