Randy Yohe Published

On-The-Scene Memories Stay With Photographer 55 Years After The Silver Bridge Disaster

Earl Ward.jpg
Now 79 and retired, former WSAZ-TV cameraman Earl Ward was one of the first journalists to reach the Ohio River disaster site.
Randy Yohe

On Dec. 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge that connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed under the weight of afternoon rush-hour traffic. Forty-six people died.

Now 79 and retired, former WSAZ-TV cameraman Earl Ward was one of the first journalists to reach the Ohio River disaster site. His memories begin with his arrival shortly after the collapse.

“I came up on the West Virginia side and I mean the whole bridge was in the water,” Ward said. “If I remember right, there were 45 cars or so involved. They were just working hard, trying to get to any people that were in the cars –to get them out.”

These were the days of television news, before satellite live shots and cell phones capturing on-the-scene reports. Ward remembered his role in covering the disaster that first, cold December night. There would be many more stories.

“I went up there with a guy from Logan that worked for us by the name of Jim Mitchell,” Ward said. “We filmed the scene and then he went back to do the 11 o’clock news and took what video we had shot up to that point back. I stayed there until, I guess it was twelve or one o’clock at night.”

Two of the victims were never found. Investigation of the wreckage pointed to the cause of the collapse being the failure of a single I-beam in a suspension chain. Analysis showed that the bridge was carrying much heavier loads than it had been designed for and had been poorly maintained.

Young videographer Ward from Raleigh County would become Chief Photographer for WSAZ-TV. Ward was on the scene of West Virginia disasters like the Buffalo Creek Flood and the aftermath of the Marshall Plane Crash.

Earl and WVPB Government Reporter Randy Yohe covered stories together for decades as a WSAZ-TV reporter and photographer team. Five years ago, on the Silver Bridge Disaster 50th Anniversary, Yohe and his wife Vickie took Earl to the Point Pleasant remembrance ceremony.

“It just brought back memories,” Ward said. “I recalled seeing the people – regular citizens – on both sides of the river, working to help first responders as much as they could, but a number of people still lost their lives. It was a major disaster.”

The tragedy inspired state and national legislation to ensure that older bridges were regularly inspected and maintained. The collapsed bridge was replaced by the Silver Memorial Bridge, which was completed in 1969.

West Virginia is also marking this 55th anniversary. Go to WVDOT for more on the Silver Bridge Disaster.