Tacoma, WA Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse, Nov 1940


Giant Bridge Falls in Water As Men Scramble to Safety

Boat Speeds From Under Long Span, Crew Watches Dramatic Collapse

TACOMA, Wash., Nov. 7 (AP) – The new $6,400,000 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the world’s third largest suspension span, swayed and cracked in winds near gale force Thursday and then fell with a terrific roar into Puget Sound.

No lives were lost, but one automobile and a logging truck plunged into the water along with big chunks of concrete, guy wires and cables.

Only the two 425-foot high steel towers which supported the 2,800-foot suspension span withstood the force which reduced the rest of the bridge to ruins.

Gov. Clarence D. Martin, who came to view the wrecked structure, said it would be rebuilt immediately. The bridge was insured and the state was insured against loss of tolls, he said.

Leonard Coatsworth, driver of the automobile, abandoned his car 500 yards from one end of the bridge and crawled off the crumbling mass on his hands and knees.

By a stroke of luck, Capt. Bill Thompson of the tugboat Arab, said he and his crew of two barely missed being caught under the falling mass. The Arab was about 100 yards from the bridge when Captain Thompson noted the sway. He turned about and at a safe distance watched the collapse.

Two Others on Bridge.

Two other persons were on the bridge besides Coatsworth. Arthur Hagen said he had just driven on from the west end when it began to sway. Riding with him was his partner in a transit concern, Mrs. Rudy Jacox.

Hagen slammed on the brakes and the two jumped from the truck and alternately crawled and ran to a tower to be helped ashore by workmen. Mrs. Jacox suffered shock and Hagen was taken to a hospital and treated for bruises and scratches.

C. E. Andrew, chief engineer of the bridge, said the collapse probably was due to the fact that flat, solid girders were used on the sides of the bridge, offering resistance to the wind. He said originally plans called for open trusses but that plans were changed by another engineer.

The demolition of the bridge came in dramatic, progressive stages, first a fifty-foot section fell.

Then the center span and at last the two 1,000-foot approaches were twisted and bent. Huge cracks appeared in the ruins which touched the ground in several places. One approach was ripped almost away from the tower. It swayed in the wind and appeared likely to break free.

“Never did I experience the feeling fo (sic) helpless horror that gripped me when I was trapped on the bridge.” said Coatsworth, a World War veteran and Tacoma New-Tribune reporter.