Video: On this day 21 years ago, freighter burns after lowering bridge hits it on Welland Canal


Published August 11, 2022 at 1:28 pm

The smoldering remains of the wheelhouse on the freighter Windoc after a bridge was lowered into it on the Welland Canal.

August 11, 2001 is a day that won’t soon be forgotten by longtime Welland residents, especially those near the canal system.

On this day, the bulk freighter Windoc was making it through the Welland Canal.

As it approached Allanburg Bridge (also referred to as Bridge 11), it got the all-clear sign in the form of a flashing amber light, which means the bridge operators see it and are approving its continued passage.

Accordingly, the captain lined the vessel up the centre of the bridge – equal distances on each side – and at a speed of 5 knots (9.2 km/h) pushed his ship forward.

Then things turned sideways quickly. As the ship was halfway through the bridge, it began to lower all of a sudden.

The captain sounded blasts on the ship’s whistle to alert the bridge operators that it was coming down on them. When calls to the operating station went unanswered, he stopped all power and quickly ushered his crew out of the ship’s wheelhouse – the highest point on any freighter.

As they were climbing out on a ladder, only the helmsman remain at the controls. As the bridge started to hit the wheelhouse, he went down on the floor and hoped for the best… which, to be clear, was surviving the crash.

Beating long odds, he did survive, freed himself from the debris and descended by the deckhouse stairwell still in one piece.

The seriously-damaged vessel continued to drift downstream, caught fire, and grounded approximately 800 metres from Bridge 11.

The vessel was eventually declared a constructive total loss. The bridge sustained structural damage and the Welland Canal was closed to vessel traffic for two days.

The aftermath of the accident was severe. Initially, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, operator of the bridge, denied responsibility, but later paid damages after the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada issued a report finding that the performance of the individual operating the bridge at the time was “likely impaired” when he lowered the span prematurely.

Here’s a short, but interesting, video of the collision between the freighter Windoc and Bridge 11.

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