Conservation Officers Among First Responders When Kentucky Lake Bridge Collapses
Sergeant Denny Broyles was returning home to Hickman County from Frankfort last Thursday and was within 30 minutes of closing out a 14-hour work day when he heard news reports about a nearby bridge.
“Eggner Ferry Bridge collapses due to a barge strike.”
This incident would cause Broyles to work about 20 more hours before he finally ended his work shift.
“I was picturing vehicles and people in the water,” said the 15-year veteran Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources conservation officer. “It was dark and raining, and I just knew it was not going to be good.”
He immediately contacted area conservation officers who confirmed from the local sheriff’s deputies just arriving at the bridge that indeed two spans of the U.S. 68/KY 80 bridge over Kentucky Lake in far western Kentucky had collapsed after being struck by a barge late Thursday night.
Without knowing any more, Broyles quickly sent his officers to the collapsed bridge with boats and rescue equipment. In the next 24 hours, six additional conservation officers would assist various state and federal officials at the scene.
“There’s no hesitation in circumstances like this,” said Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Major Larry Estes. “This situation was potentially life threatening, and our conservation officers possess the skills, training and equipment to respond. People look to us for help.”
Officer Broyles’ background is a shining example of this experience. Throughout his career, he has spent weeks away from home helping people stranded in remote areas without power by winter ice storms or other disasters. In 2005 he was deployed to provide law enforcement relief and emergency rescue to New Orleans residents devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Still, the collapsed bridge was a new experience for him.
“This was my first shipwreck,” he said. “The first news report spoke of a barge strike. I’ve never seen a boat that big on Kentucky Lake never!”
News reports later said the 312-foot Delta Mariner carrying aviation parts was traveling downstream toward Kentucky Dam. It apparently attempted to pass under the bridge in the wrong channel. Clearance beneath the bridge was inadequate, according to news reports, and the boat struck the steel truss bridge, stripping it off its piers. About 300 feet of steel span and asphalt pavement fell, much of it folding across the boat’s bow. The rest of the span burrowed into the muddy lake bottom, anchoring the boat at the spot.
Traffic across the Kentucky Lake span averages about 2,800 vehicles daily. After searching for several hours, officers and rescue personnel were satisfied that they had somehow dodged a major bullet no vehicles or people were involved in the incident.
And with that realization, the role of fish and wildlife officers evolved. “Once we determined there were no vehicles or people in the water, our mission turned into one of support for those who have the responsibility the U.S. Coast Guard and Kentucky Department of Transportation,” said Broyles. “The Coast Guard shut the river down to commercial traffic for about a two-mile stretch. We assisted them in maintaining a safe zone around the bridge and vessel.”
Conservation officers joining Broyles in search and rescue operations and in assisting the Coast Guard and Kentucky Department of Transportation were Sergeant James Nason, and officers Daniel Richardson, Josh Hudson, Kyle Webb, Lee Cope and Greg Youree.