Highway Accident Report

U.S. Towboat Robert Y. Love
Allision With Interstate 40 Highway Bridge
Near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma
May 26, 2002

NTSB Number HAR-04/05
NTIS Number PB2004-916205
PDF Document(1.3 MB)

Executive Summary:

About 0745, on May 26, 2002, the towboat Robert Y. Love, pushing two empty asphalt tank barges, was traveling northbound on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma. As the tow approached the Interstate 40 highway bridge at mile 360.3, it veered off course and rammed a pier 201 feet west of (outside) the navigation channel. The impact collapsed a 503-foot section of the bridge, which fell into the river and onto the barges below. According to witnesses, highway traffic continued to drive into the void in the bridge created by the collapsed spans. When traffic stopped, eight passenger vehicles and three truck tractor-semitrailer combinations had fallen into the river or onto the collapsed portions of the bridge. The accident resulted in 14 fatalities and 5 injuries and caused an estimated $30.1 million in damage to the bridge, including the operation of detours, and $276,000 in damage to the barges.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Robert Y. Love’s allision with the Interstate 40 highway bridge and its subsequent collapse was the captain’s loss of consciousness, possibly as the result of an unforeseeable abnormal heart rhythm. Contributing to the loss of life was the inability of motorists to detect the collapsed bridge in time to stop their vehicles.

Major safety issues identified in this accident include:

As a result of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Highway Administration, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.