Accident, winds cause bridge closure

April 14, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Westbound lanes of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge were partially reopened Wednesday morning as crews waited until daylight to secure and remove a 70-foot fishing boat that crashed into the bridge Tuesday evening.

SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you

Check real-time traffic conditions here

A stranded kayaker, a wrecked fishing boat, and a jack-knifed big rig, were all casualties of Tuesday's dangerous winds. It all happened on or near the San Mateo Bridge. All of the westbound lanes were closed Tuesday night and Caltrans needed to make sure the boat that slammed into the bridge didn't cause any structural damage.

The U.S. Coast Guard still needs to remove the boat, which was initially expected to occur at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning

At the U.S. Coast Guard station at Yerba Buena Island, two of the fishermen and their dog were brought by the Coast Guard when they rescued them after their boat lost power.

The 75-foot fishing vessel lost power and drifted in the choppy bay until it rammed into the San Mateo Bridge. One of the fishermen managed to climb on to the bridge to safety, while the other two and their dog waited for the Coast Guard to rescue them.

"They were cold and they were scared and maybe a little bit seasick there, but once they were on board on our boat, we gave them clothes and warmed them up and they felt a lot better," said Lt. Michael Nordhausen was the Coast Guard captain who helped in the rescue.

But even the Coast Guard had trouble maneuvering through the rough winds on Tuesday. It dispatched an 87-foot-long boat to rescue the two remaining fishermen, but that boat couldn't get close enough. A smaller 25-foot boat lost power during the rescue. And a 41-foot boat couldn't get close enough to rescue the Coast Guard crew who became stuck on the small boat. Ultimately, a helicopter was finally sent in.

Safety back at the Coast Guard station on Yerba Buena Island, the fishermen, a man and a woman and their dog, were too cold and shaken up to talk to reporters.

"It was challenging conditions one of the more difficult days to do a rescue that I've done," said Lt. Nordhausen.

Around the same time Tuesday afternoon, three kayakers were on the bay. They left from Oyster Point in South San Francisco. Two of the kayakers made it back to shore when the waters became too rough, but a third went missing, and ended up near the San Mateo Bridge where Hayward firefighters managed to hoist the kayaker up to safety.

The fishing trawler remains stuck in the mud next to the bridge. The wind and choppy waters have also been too rough for the Coast Guard to pull it out. The Coast Guard is considering a tug boat to pull the fishing trawler out.

Gale force winds late Tuesday afternoon are also blamed for jackknifing a big rig and shutting down the San Mateo Bridge during the commute hour. What happened on top of the bridge was just one more thing for crews to deal with on Tuesday.

The combination of very strong winds and an empty trailer created a mess on the San Mateo Bridge when a trailer toppled over blocking all west bound lanes of traffic.

"The trailer is actually empty which makes it lighter weight, so with the winds being as strong as it is right now, the cause is the wind knocked the trailer over," said CHP Officer Amelia Jack.

It happened while Juan Fernandez was driving it. He says he was only going 20 miles an hour when he lost control.

"The container pushed in the left side, very strong the wind," said Fernandez.

CHP officers decided Fernandez was not at fault, but that wasn't their focus. They first had to get the rig off the bridge. Eastbound traffic from Foster City had to be diverted, while westbound traffic became to a standstill. All of those drivers stuck behind the big rig, had no other choice, but to wait it out. Some even tried to be productive.

"I'm sitting here for an hour getting some work done sorting out the taxes," said Gwyan Rhabyt from Santa Cruz.

"They shut it down. I'm stuck. I can't turn around even if I go to 880, by the time I go down the Dumbarton Bridge, and come all the way back down to Hwy 101 North, it's the same amount of time so I decided to stick out," said Toni Hall, a Foster City resident.

Still, it still took hours even after the trailer was towed off the bridge and the whole time the wind never let up.

"I've been in this department 20 years now and I've never seen chop this large in the bay so this is extremely high winds, extremely hazardous conditions," said Foster City Battalion Chief Jim Scott.

Caltrans is still looking for structural damage since the trawler is still in the water.

Check real-time traffic conditions here

Bay City News contributed to this report.

       Today's latest headlines | ABC7 News on your phone
Follow us on Twitter | Fan us on Facebook | Get our free widget


Load Comments