Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skyway Disaster Lives in Memories 20 Years Later, Victims Retell Tale

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Skyway Disaster Lives in Memories 20 Years Later, Victims Retell Tale

Article excerpt

ST. PETERSBURG -- On a monsoon-like morning 20 years ago, a wind-blown freighter rammed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and a 1,400-foot chunk of concrete roadway crashed into the waters of Tampa Bay taking seven vehicles and a bus with it.

Thirty-five people died.

Only one man survived the 15-story plunge. Trucker Wesley MacIntire's pickup truck was pitched off the bridge and bounced off the bow of the ship. The Chinese crew of the errant Summit Venture pulled him to safety. He died of bone cancer nine years later at age 65.

Four men cheated death when their car miraculously skidded to a stop just 14 inches from the edge of the southbound span as it dangled out over the choppy water.

As he scrambled to safety, one man remembers fearing more of the bridge would give way and worrying that unwitting motorists would run them down.

Anthony Gattus, now 81, remembers the blinding rain and the Chicago-to-Miami Greyhound bus with 26 aboard that passed the Buick he was in -- and just dropped from sight.

"We were going slow about 25 mph. Richard Hornbuckle was driving. The bus went by us and then, there was nothing, just darkness. We slid to a stop on the metal part of the bridge and got out," Gattus said.

"It was raining so hard and it was so dark, so slippery, I got on my hands and knees and put my fingers in the grate as I climbed so I wouldn't fall backwards," he said.

"We started going up the ramp of the bridge and I'm hollering to the others: 'The cars ain't going to see us or hear us. The visibility is terrible. You can't see your hand in front of you. We're going to get run down.' "

Hornbuckle was making him nervous.

"He's fooling with the trunk of the car. I hollered: 'What are you doing? Getting my golf clubs, he says. I asked him: Are you nuts? Let that go. Let's get out of here.' "

Gattus, Hornbuckle, Ken Holmes and Jim Crispin, who were working for a wholesale auto-sale business, made it to safety.

By then, law enforcement personnel and reporters were on the bridge, asking questions.

"I was almost in tears," Gattus said. "Maybe I was nervous, maybe I was scared and it was a delayed reaction. I don't know. But I broke down."

Troopers put the men in a patrol car with the heater on to dry off.

Gattus had no trouble in the following years driving over the northbound span that carried two-way traffic and eventually, the replacement bridge.

Not so for Hornbuckle or Crispin.

"What happened stuck with him the rest of his life," said Crispin's widow, Mary Crispin. "He never went over the bridge again. He couldn't do it. There was too much realism -- a bus load of people drowned. They had passed them and they didn't know where it went."

Before her husband died in July 1995, he went through rugged times with flashbacks, she said. …

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