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Washington bridge collapse is wake-up call, NTSB says

Published: Saturday, May 25 2013 11:15 p.m. MDT

Cars travel on the Riverside Drive Bridge Friday, May 24, 2013 in Mt. Vernon, Wash. The Riverside Drive Bridge is the main detour due to the collapsed bridge over Interstate 5.  (Associated Press) Cars travel on the Riverside Drive Bridge Friday, May 24, 2013 in Mt. Vernon, Wash. The Riverside Drive Bridge is the main detour due to the collapsed bridge over Interstate 5. (Associated Press)

SEATTLE — The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday the bridge collapse in Washington state is a wake-up call for the nation.

"This is a really significant event and we need to learn from it, not just in Washington but around the country," Debbie Hersman said after taking a boat ride on the Skagit River below the dramatic scene where a truck bumped against the steel framework, collapsing the bridge and sending two vehicles and three people falling into the chilly water.

Investigators need to find out what happened in Washington and if it could be repeated at similar bridges around the country, Hersman said.

"At the end of the day it's about preventing an accident like this," she said.

Her team will spend a week to 10 days looking at the bridge, talking to the truck driver whose vehicle hit it and examining maintenance documents and previous accident reports.

Other over-height vehicles struck the Skagit River bridge before the collapse on Thursday, she noted. Investigators are using a high tech 3-D video camera to review the scene and attempt to pinpoint where the bridge failure began.

Hersman does not expect the investigation to delay removal of debris from the river or work on a temporary solution to replace or repair the I-5 span. State and federal officials can, and will, work together on the investigation, she said.

They'll be watching for safety issues that could affect other bridges.

"The results can be very catastrophic," Hersman said. "We're very fortunate in this situation."

Washington state officials said Saturday that it will take time to find both short- and long-term fixes for the bridge that collapsed on Interstate 5.

While the National Transportation and Safety Board finishes its inspection, state workers will begin removing debris from the river. Next, a temporary solution will be put in place to return traffic to Washington state's most important north-south roadway.

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