The drawbridge where the accident happened in West Palm Beach.

Drawbridges have a dark past and a modern history of accidents

On Sunday, February 6th, thought to be a fine day to go biking around her city, an unfortunate incident has befallen upon a woman in West Palm Beach, Florida. A female bicyclist plummeted to her death when a rising drawbridge began ascending as she was crossing with her bicycle. 

Before falling to her death, a good Samaritan who was several feet away from the victim, quickly rushed towards her and attempted to pull her safely back but lost his grip on the woman, leading the victim to fall five to six storeys just below the bridge onto a concrete landing, police spokesman Mike Jachles reported.  

The Drawbridge remained open for investigation after the accident in West Palm Beach.
The Drawbridge remained open for investigation after the accident in West Palm Beach.

She was plainly and calmly crossing on the drawbridge that connected Palm Beach to mainland Florida with her bike in tow. “She was walking from east to west and had almost reached the furthest point of the moveable span when the bridge went up” he added. 

And thus the question from the public arises, why did the drawbridge start lifting before the bridge tender double-checked that it was clear of pedestrians? And whether there were any safety violations. Jachles stresses that this will be the investigation’s major emphasis. 

In 2015, a woman died after the drawbridge she was crossing in Miami was suddenly raised. Olga Aponte, 62, was crossing 12th Avenue Bridge when it started to go up and she fell to the ground.

Officials said Aponte’s fall could have been anywhere between a 30- to 40-foot drop, depending on where she was when the bridge was raised.

Drawbridge going up for boat traffic in Florida. Animation.
Drawbridge going up for boat traffic in Florida.

There are a total of 12,355 bridges in Florida, and 115 are drawbridges. 

When you think of anything medieval history, you probably imagine castles surrounded by water as a barrier against invaders, as well as a drawbridge to cross the water. 

That was how they were utilized back then, so why do we still have them now? Surely no one is invading cities anymore, right? That’s so last century! 

But the contemporary drawbridge is utilized for two purposes. The first is that they allow automobiles and people to traverse enormous quantities of water and the other benefit is that drawbridges do not obstruct river traffic, as opposed to fixed bridges over water, allowing the river traffic specially of tall vessels to flow freely and without obstruction. 

Medieval drawbridge on a castle in Europe.

Modern drawbridges are a wonder of marine construction but have their fair share of accidents, and here are some of them. 

Crazy drawbridge incidents over the years

Death daredevil jumping over a bridge by car

Drawbridges, like all other things, have its disadvantages. And that if not treading carefully, could be a one way ticket to the highway to heaven.

A driver of an SUV decided to play the life or death game with the universe when he crashed thru the two traffic arms meant to keep out the vehicles or people when the drawbridge starts to ascend. 

Looks like it’s his lucky day because he successfully pulled off the stunt with no scratches on him. Surely his luck for the rest of this lifetime would be on a  drought after that, but looks like fate has other plans. 

The “risk taker” might be happy they pulled it off but the police were not impressed and are searching for the driver but surprise, surprise, they were never identified. 

The Daytona Beach Police Department said the jump, which was captured on video, was the second in the past few week in advance to the Daytona Bike Week.

Fort Lauderdale downtown railway drawbridge 

Woman stuck Fort Lauderdale bridge in 2013.
Woman stuck Fort Lauderdale bridge in 2013.

This lady from Dania Beach and the unknown SUV driver in Daytona Beach must be cut from the same cloth as the former mentioned decided to go on a daring adventure with death as she clings to the tracks of a Fort Lauderdale railroad bridge. 

She was then later identified as Wanda McGowan, and was reported that she was crossing the bridge above the New River to take the shortcut to her house when the bridge began opening.  

McGowan, who was believed to be a participant in a local breast cancer awareness event in her city, remained calm as she hung on about 22 feet over the railway tracks, according to witnesses. That lady is certainly not taking the short cut anymore!

The woman had to be rescued in this incident in 2013 after she became stuck and hanging on a Fort Lauderdale railroad bridge and calls were made for her to face charges in the incident, but she ended up not getting charged.

This railroad drawbridge goes through the heart of Fort Lauderdale at the Riverwalk, and the historic district … by what is now The Wharf, a famous restaurant on the New River.

Because of its use by cargo train, the fast trains of the Brightline, and all the boat traffic that goes under it, there are now plans by the city of Fort Lauderdale to do something about the nuisance bridge.

Tourist Boat traffic and domestic user constantly get stuck waiting for the bridge to go up when some train needs to pass, which is now constantly during the day since the start of Brightline trains to Miami.

This live feed from the Marine Industries Association of South Florida shows the bridge live day and night.

According to the current mayor, the current drawbridge at the New River is very old and sits right above the river. It would be down so often that it would devastate the marine industry that relies on the river to navigate from boatyards farther west. Thus, FDOT began looking at building a higher bridge or a tunnel so marine traffic will be much less impacted. 

The primary bridge options would basically build an elongated bridge at least as tall as the 17th Street Causeway from north of Davie Boulevard to south of Sunrise Boulevard. It would be between 56 and 80 feet high for much of its length – between five and eight stories tall.

The city of Fort Lauderdale prefers a tunnel that would go under the river. and a tunnel under the river already exists by Las Olas. 

Plans by the city of Fort Lauderdale for a bridge or a tunnel for train traffic on the New River by the Riverwalk.
Plans by the city of Fort Lauderdale for a bridge or a tunnel for train traffic on the New River by the Riverwalk.

Because of the higher cost, some worry the tunnel option might not fly with county officials. In that case, the bridge would come into play.

Community leaders argue that the New River crossing — no matter the cost — should be treated as a legacy project for downtown Fort Lauderdale and that will have lingering effects over the next century.

The Venice of America has a history of bridge accidents

In 20114, a mechanical failure accident caused a bridge arm to crash down on a yacht that sent the bridge tender slamming for the breaks with all of his life. 

And thank God that they did because they knew full well that if they didn’t the yacht could have been split in half. Thankfully, only the yacht’s top deck suffered considerable damage, only a couple million needed for repair, no biggie… 

The 60 year old bridge, on the other hand, was not so lucky and was in for a multi-million dollar makeover due to its damages.

The drawbridge crashed onto passing superyacht Rockstar (ex-Blind Date) closing the causeway that connects Miami-Dade mainland to Miami Beach.

With the closing of the bridge for inspections you can imagine the hassle of traffic it may have caused!

Bezos’ big boat has issues with drawbridge in Holland

The historic Rotterdam bridge that may have to be dismantled for Jeff Bezos yatch.
The historic Rotterdam bridge that may have to be dismantled for Jeff Bezos yatch.

If that South Florida drawbridge needed a multi-million dollar makeover, the Koningshaven Bridge in Rotterdam is not so lucky. 

According to a city official, Rotterdam has agreed to temporarily deconstruct part of its historic Koningshaven Bridge so that Jeff Bezos’ 417-foot-long, three-mast boat may pass thru the river this summer. 

Dismantling the historic bridge for the Amazon founder? Well, this event is certainly going to be written down on the history books.

The record-breaking luxury yacht being built by Dutch firm Oceanco is reported to be 417ft (127m) long and too tall to fit through the Koningshaven Bridge.

A spokesman for the mayor confirmed the plan to reporters, with Mr Bezos set to foot the bill through Oceanco.

The move is controversial because the steel bridge has a long history, and is now a national monument. It previously went through a major renovation which saw it out of action from 2014 to 2017, when officials said it would not be dismantled again.

Now thousands of residents of the Dutch port city have said they’re willing to egg the second-richest person in the world’s new $485 million boat because they’re annoyed by his plan to dismantle a historic bridge so that the yacht can pass.

Tampa’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge Disaster

The Tampa sunshine skyway accident in the 80s.
The Tampa sunshine skyway accident in the 80s.

Perhaps the most famous bridge accident in Florida was the Tampa skyway bridge accident.

On May 9, 1980, one of the worst maritime disasters in Tampa Bay’s history occurred. A violent storm shook the waves so hard that a freighter, the Summit Venture, struck the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at 7:33 a.m. Several passenger cars, a pickup truck and a Greyhound bus toppled 150 feet into the water.

Only 1 man survived.

Originally built in 1954 with 2 lanes, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was 15 miles long. It crossed Tampa Bay and ran from St. Petersburg to Bradenton. A second span parallel to the bridge was added later in 1971 to accommodate the increased traffic.

A car dangling from the Tampa bridge after the accident in 1980.
A car dangling from the Tampa bridge after the accident in 1980.

Max Francisco