Skagit River Bridge Collapse - Barge

Spectators watch as a barge containing a collaspible crane heads upriver under the West Mount Vernon bridge over the Skagit River towards the broken Skagit River I-5 bridge Saturday evening. The crane will be assembles today and will be joined by other equipment tonight so that work on clearing away the collapsed debris can begin.

BURLINGTON — The Skagit River Bridge has a history of regular strikes from overheight vehicles, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday morning.

The last time a vehicle struck the bridge was Oct. 22, 2012, Chairman Debbie Hersman said, and it occurred in a northbound lane of the bridge. Hersman displayed a slide that showed a visible gouge out of one of the support beams.

The NTSB is in the process of examining 10 years of records from Washington Department of Transportation and other agencies. At this point, there is no estimate for how many times loads have struck the bridge.

Hersman said it is the responsibility of the motor carrier to verify that its load will clear all bridges.

The semi truck that struck the Skagit River Bridge Thusday night had a height permit for 15-feet, 9-inches, Hersman said.

Officials do not yet know exactly where the truck struck the bridge, but the height of the bridge at the fog line — a white line on the right side of the road — 15-foot 6-inches.

Because of its height, state law required that the truck use a pilot car.

“It was required to use a lead pilot vehicle equipped with a height measuring device on all state highways and roads,” Hersman said.

The NTSB is seeking interviews with the pilot car driver, who has not been named. She has not been charged with a crime, nor has anyone else involved in the incident.

Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the NTSB, said that the driver of the truck was not notified of a strike by the pilot car’s measuring device, and he did not see the pole strike the bridge. She said the NTSB is also looking in to the distance between the pilot car and the truck.

The northernmost span of the Skagit River Bridge collapsed at about 7 p.m. Thursday after a truck heading south to Vancouver, Wash., struck several of the trusses with an oversized load. Three people whose cars fell into the river were rescued. Nobody was killed.

Decisions on repairing just the span that fell or replacing the entire bridge will fall to the state DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

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