Navy Search and Rescue crew helps with Skagit Bridge rescues

Rescuers search for victims of the bridge collapse on Interstate 5 in Skagit County. Three people suffered minor injuries. - Jennifer Buchanan / The Daily Herald, Everett
Rescuers search for victims of the bridge collapse on Interstate 5 in Skagit County. Three people suffered minor injuries.
— image credit: Jennifer Buchanan / The Daily Herald, Everett

A command master chief from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and his wife were plunged into the chilly waters of the Skagit River when a portion of the Interstate 5 bridge collapsed Thursday.

A fellow sailor from the base helped rescue the couple from their submerged vehicle.

While the spectacular bridge collapse in Skagit County made international headlines, Oak Harbor community is abuzz with the news that two of their own miraculously survived with non-life-threatening injuries. A man in a different vehicle also sustained only minor injuries after his car plunged into the water.

Oak Harbor residents Dan Sligh and his wife were in their pickup on Interstate 5 heading to a camping trip when a bridge before them disappeared in a “big puff of dust,” the Associated Press reported Friday.

“I hit the brakes and we went off,” Sligh told AP, adding he “saw the water approaching ... you hold on as tight as you can.”

Sligh and his wife were taken to Skagit Valley Hospital. The other man was reported in stable condition at United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley.

Sligh’s shoulder was dislocated in the fall in the water. He told reporters that he popped his shoulder back in so that he could help his wife, who was in shock.

The Navy reported that a member of the search-and-rescue team from NAS Whidbey helped pull the couple of safety.

NAS Whidbey Island’s SAR team lifted off from the base in the MH-60 helicopter at 7:45 p.m.

The helicopter landed near the bridge to help the on-scene rescue services commander, who requested a rescue swimmer.

Rescue swimmer Timothy Hawk, an aviation warfare systems operator second class, boarded a small emergency services boat and helped free and pull the two individuals out of their vehicle.

On shore, Hospitalman Second Class Brent McIntyre assisted with triage.

The rescuers loaded the couple into an ambulance, which transported them to Skagit Valley Hospital.

The helicopter crew then searched the river for other possible victims, but found none.

A truck hauling a too-tall load of drilling equipment is being blamed for the catastrophic bridge failure.

The Washington State Patrol confirmed Friday that “the oversized load struck the trusses that supported the bridge causing the collapse, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River.”

The collapse comes just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend and is expected to snarl traffic in the Mount Vernon and Burlington area for some time.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley said the bridge collapse raises concerns with Deception Pass Bridge.

He pointed out that the two-span bridge connecting Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island is older than the bridge that collapsed.

“It’s over saltwater and it’s 180 feet up.”

Dudley said he was recently assured by officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation that the bridge is safe, but he’s still worried about the lack of planning for the future.

Dudley said he’s concerned about what would happen if the bridge was closed in an emergency, but also the long-range plans for replacing the aging structure.

He said he will push state officials to take up the issue.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Mark Francis told the Skagit Valley Herald the driver works for Mullen Trucking in Alberta.

The tractor-trailer, which was marked as an oversize load, was hauling a housing for drilling equipment to Vancouver, Wash., he said.

An accident report said the driver was William Scott, of Spruce Grove, Alberta. He voluntarily gave a blood sample for an alcohol test and was not arrested, the Associated Press reported.

The truck made it off the bridge and the driver remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators.

The bridge is used by an average of 71,000 vehicles a day, so the roadblock will cause a major disruption in trade and tourism.

Many Canadians travel to Burlington to shop at the outlet mall, Costco and other businesses.

The Washington Transportation Department set up detours.

The department also is recommending detours using state highways 20 and 9 that add tens of miles to a trip. Drivers are urged to avoid the area, if possible, especially over Memorial Day weekend.

“The I-5 corridor is totally disrupted,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who was at the scene Thursday night.

“Thanks to the rescuers and a little bit of luck, we had three Skagitonians who made it out of the Skagit River alive,” Inslee said.


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