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Two Men Killed When Trapped On Bridge Project

(Note: the following story is shown exactly as it appeared in 1956)

Rappahannock Record
Kilmarnock, Virginia
July 26, 1956

Two men were killed Monday when a large caisson for the new Rappahannock River Bridge on which they were working suddenly sank into the river bottom, trapping them in the mud and water which rose inside.

The men killed were Frank Douglas, 54, of Muldrow, Okla., an assistant superintendent for Diamond Construction Company, and Desso Montgomery (Colored), 40, a pile driver, of Suffolk.

Six men were working inside a cofferdam preparing to pour more concrete into the caisson for a bridge pier when the accident occurred. At least three of the other men were injured, none seriously, when the caisson sank without warning 25 feet deeper into the river bottom.

The men were trapped by mud and water rising inside the caisson and were slammed around by the braces and scaffolding.

Luther Wilson (Colored) of Irvington was the only local man working in the caisson at the time of the accident. He is now recovering at his home from a head injury and shock.

Wilson reported that his life was saved by Jim Harris, an engineer on the project. He said the water pouring through a port hole as it submerged prevented him from crawling out as the cofferdam filled up. Wilson was knocked unconscious and his lungs filled with water but Harris grabbed him and pulled him through the port hole.

The body of Douglas, clad in a safety life jacket which bridge workmen are required to wear, rose to the surface in the cofferdam shortly after the accident.

A diver for the construction company worked in the water, mud and debris for six hours after the accident at 12:45 p.m. but was unable to locate the body of Montgomery. Workmen pumped out the water and continued their search for the missing man on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The accident, blamed by engineers on a “soil failure”, took place at Caisson No. 6, where one of the 15 bridge pilings is being placed, near the middle of the river.

Workmen at the time were removing domes from six wells in the bottom of the caisson in order to let the caisson settle a little farther into the river bottom. The caisson was expected to settle only a few feet but it began to sink very rapidly. The engineer said it sank 25 feet, far deeper than expected, within a half minute.

When the caisson sank the pipe in one of the wells was forced up through the caisson by mud and water which rose like a fountain. This pipe apparently caught Douglas and pinned him against some of the steel and wood braces inside the cofferdam.

Each of the victims is survived by a wife and three children.

posted 08.21.2008

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