Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Loddon Bridge Disaster 1972

On the 26th October 1972 the 329M bridge over the Loddon collapsed, whilst under construction. It resulted in 3 deaths and ten injuries, at the time it was of national interest, but now its all but forgotten. I could see no plaque there, but there should be one.

Loddon Bridge

It is timely to look at how health and safety has inproved over the years as the ConDems are looking at changing this.

From the 'Wokingham Times', 26th October 1972:
‘Digging for dear life . . .’ Reporters: Malcolm Deacon, Quentin Falk, Eileen Sheridan, Ian Soutar;
Like so many ants, rescue workers swarm over the wreckage feverishly searching for survivors. Every now and then there is a pause as they listen for cries from the injured. But there is silence except for the drone of generators as fire engines pump out brown, murky water to reduce the level of the river. So the search continues.

This was the scene at the Loddon Bridge disaster on Tuesday when three men died and 10 were brought out injured after being trapped in the tangled mesh of girders, rods and splintered wooden frames. Hundreds of tons of concrete, wood and steel had crashed 40ft down when the span between two concrete pillars was on the point of being cemented.

One of the injured men, his face white, drawn and tired, his head wrapped in a swath of bandages, his clothes covered in blood sits in a waiting car. Shocked as she was, Mrs. Guntrip still managed to make tea for helpers. "I’ll never forget what I saw", she said.

During the morning there were some 40 men working on the span, but it was lunch-time when the disaster struck and half of them were having their lunch-break. Mr. Tom Murphy of Finchampstead Road, Wokingham, was near the canteen 75 yards away. He heard the crash and turned round in time to see the span hit the water. His brother Joe was one of the men working in the other shift and was slightly injured as the scaffolding plummeted down.

As the alarm was raised at 1:15, every available ambulance in Reading was ordered to the scene. They were soon joined by ambulances from Bracknell and Wokingham until over 20 were ready.

In the canteen on the site, roll calls were taken. A group of men, covered in mud and grime, answered as their names were called. There were embarrassed coughs and nobody dared look at each other as the foreman called out a name and there was no reply. A cross was put by the name and the foreman read on.

The ambulance man were soon joined by firemen from Reading, Wokingham, Sonning and Pangbourne. Said one fireman, "God – it looks like a scaffolder’s nightmare". Said another – if there’s anyone down there he can’t have much of a chance.
Loddon Bridge 1972

Nearby, women neighbours valiantly started making cup after cup of strong, sweet tea and weary rescue workers snatched time off for quick breathers. The whole area around the bridge had been churned up by the hundreds of pairs of feet trampling around and soon became a sea of mud.

The collapse happened when tons of liquid concrete was being poured into the bridge "false work" – a temporary bridge of steel piles and girders. After the concrete has set, the falsework is taken away and a bridge of concrete is left.

This falsework had previously been used on the west-bound bridge at the beginning of August and was due to be moved along the river to help construct the lower slip road.

Microfilm copies of these newspapers can be viewed at both Wokingham and Bracknell Libraries.

On Reading Forum people remember the event, Roads near the hospital were cleared to help ambulances.

Now the area is well known for flooding.


Frank Squires said...

I was the first Police officer on the scene, within minutes of its collapse. We were initially informed a train had derailed. On my arrival all the uninsured men were in total shock and I remember I couldn't find out anything from them. I spent the next 4 1/2 hours in the wreckage trying to rescue the trapped men with the assistance of fire brigade officers. I never did find my cap which disappeared in the cement..
I had only been in the Police Force a couple of months and the incident is as clear in my mind as the day it happened.
Frank Squires

Anonymous said...

I was there also, my second day. We'd worked the previous day cleaning bits of wire away and rust ready to pour the concrete,day of disaster I was put on dragging the concrete delivery pipe into areas that had to be filled. Heavy work! Went at breaking for tea and on return, first few paces up the ladder heard shouting 'get down get down' the bridge is collapsing!! Then looking between the ladder rungs I watched the bridge fall into the river with a huge amount of spray!! All men that were there rushed to see what they could do,me included! We all did what we could. It to be seconds later police,ambulances,fire engines were all there! Bad,day! Could go on,was in shock for long time. Never knew what shock was,did then! Thanks.