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Bridge collapse survivor: ‘Cars started flying’

Some dropped with the collapsing bridge into the waters of the Mississippi River and swam to safety, while others leaped from their cars over yawning gaps of asphalt to solid ground. Survivors and witnesses share harrowing tales of escape from Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
A man comforts an unidentified victim injured in the collapse of the Interstate I-35W bridge in Minneapolis on Wednesday night.
A man comforts an unidentified victim injured in the collapse of the Interstate I-35W bridge in Minneapolis on Wednesday night.Matthew Mead / The Minnesota Daily via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dennis and Jamie Winegar were driving across the Mississippi River, stuck in the late rush-hour traffic, when they felt the bridge beneath them start to shake.

The visitors from Houston, Texas, were among the survivors of Wednesday’s collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Their car landed on top of a smaller car.

Jamie Winegar said she suddenly started hearing “boom, boom, boom and we were just dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping.”

She said her nephew yelled, “’It’s an earthquake!’ and then we realized the bridge was collapsing.”

Behind the wheel, Dennis Winegar fought to keep their rented Chrysler 300M under control.

“I slammed on my brakes and saw something in front of me disappear and then my car pointed straight down and we fell.” He estimated they dropped about 50 feet.

Jamie Winegar said everyone around them got out of their cars and tried to help others off the bridge. “There were a bunch of people right around there helping everyone. Angels is what I call them.”

‘It seemed like a movie’
Among the other vehicles caught on the ruined span as it came to rest was a school bus filled with children on their way back from a day of swimming. Ryan Watkins, one of the children, said the bus bounced twice and stopped, its front door wedged against a concrete traffic barrier. The children fled through the rear door.

Catherine Yankelevich tumbled into the Mississippi River. “Cars started flying and I was falling and saw the water,” she said. She climbed out the driver’s side window and swam to shore uninjured.

“It seemed like a movie, it was pretty scary,” said Yankelevich. “I never expected anything like this to happen here.”

Jacob Reynolds of Minneapolis, who had just returned from a family wedding out of town, was driving downtown and ready to get onto the freeway when he heard that the bridge had collapsed.

He said he’s certified for disaster relief by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so he ran over to see if he could help. Emergency crews were already fighting the fires.

“I realized there was nothing I could do so I continued to take pictures,” Reynolds said. “I realized I couldn’t capture it on film. It couldn’t fit it in the camera. Some things are meant only for the eyes.”