82. The little red car that flew off the top of the Bay Bridge after the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake (October 17, 1989)
I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but we’ve all been there. You’re on the internet late at night, and one google search, and one wikipedia search leads to another, and you’re watching news clips from the 1980s until 3am. One clip from all the San Francisco earthquake coverage I watched that morning that still resonates with me today is of the little red car that drove off the broken opening of the Bay Bridge.
Due to a misunderstanding with the way the cars were being turned around on the bridge, a red car drove off of the opening of the bridge, and crashed into the lower level of the bridge.
There’s raw news footage of the red car being pulled up from the bottom of the bridge.
At around :30, you can hear a rescuer get smart with the news reporter if she asked if they were taken out of the car: ”UH YEAH, THEY’RE STILL IN THERE.”
Hearing the screetch of the car being dragged up by its rims back onto the flat road, and then hearing the tiny “pop” sound the door made when it was pried open is almost heartbreaking.
It’s upsetting though to see this reporter prim to get ready to shoot a report in front of the mangled car.
The fatal bridge accident occurred about half an hour after the massive quake, which registered magnitude 7.1, struck at 5:04 p.m. on Oct. 17, 1989, causing a 50-foot opening in a section of the top deck of the bridge.
Moala and her brother, headed for Oakland on the lower deck of the bridge, were among the hundreds of motorists who were stopped and rerouted by state personnel to the top deck at Treasure Island so they could return safely to San Francisco.
But Moala and some other motorists proceeded back toward Oakland, unaware of the danger that lay in going in that direction. While other cars managed to avoid the collapsed section, Moala’s auto plunged into the opening, resulting in the only fatality from the bridge’s collapse. Meanwhile, across the bay in Oakland, 42 people died in the collapse of a one-mile section of the freeway.
Baum said California Highway Patrol officers and Caltrans employees at the scene “failed to properly control traffic” on the bridge, resulting in cars driven by Moala and others to be sent toward the collapsed section. 1
The day death came knocking, Lesisita had just flown into San Francisco International Airport from Australia, where he had gone for a funeral. Anamafi, a nurse’s aide just off from her shift, picked him up and they were on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge at 5:04 p.m.
Anamafi followed the near-panicked herd of cars onto the top deck of the bridge, where everyone thought they would be safe, and then an emergency worker waved her toward Oakland. About 50 cars rolled east nearly at once — none of them knowing a section of the top deck had collapsed just ahead of them, creating a yawning, 50-foot gap in the road.
Everyone else managed to stop just in time, including a tourist couple who started videotaping the hole. Their camera was still rolling — capturing images broadcast worldwide in the days to come — when Anamafi’s car hit the breach at 40 mph, bounced off the fallen section of roadway and slammed into the opposite side of the hole, hanging there by its front end.
It took emergency crews a half-hour to drag the car back up to the road. The paramedics knew just by looking at Anamafi that the bridge had claimed what turned out to be its only fatality. 2
//edit May, 24//
I found the background information about the tourists who videotaped that moment:
Ryckman, Larry. “What Some Californians, Visitors Were Doing at 5:04p.m. Tuesday.” Schenectady Gazette, October 19, 1989. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=PnkhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0IkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4602,4727174 (accessed May 24, 2013).
THE FREEWAY DEAD: Portraits From Oakland - A special report.; 11 WHOSE LIVES ENDED AS QUAKE CRUSHED I-880 - New York Times profile of some of the people who died in the Nimitz Freeway collapse that killed 39 people that same day.