20th Century Westgate Bridge Collapse

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CD Xbow

Club Legend
Oct 1, 2014
AFL Club
A little bit of local history.

15th of October is the day the Westgate bridge collapsed (1972) and killed 35 workers and injured 18. It remains the largest death toll in a work place accident in Australia.

My father rang me to remind me because he had been there earlier in the morning with his parliamentary committee (he was a parliamentary secretary to a state government committee at the time) He claims they were on the span, but I think that's unlikely given what was going on at the time. By the time he got back to the office, it was on the news the span had fallen. Half an hour can make a big difference!

There is a virtual exhibit of the tragedy here https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/disaster-at-west-gate-the-1970-bridge-collapse /wQLmdTVt
Below is a summary of the events prior to the span collapsing

'According to reports, as two spans were brought into close proximity it was revealed that there was a gap of approx 11cm. The answer seemed simple enough, use kentledge (concrete ballast cubes that each weighed about 8 tons) to realign the girders. These concrete cubes were going to be placed on the north half span in an attempt to push it down to the same height as the south span. However it would seem that more weight was used than was approved by the engineer and this caused a buckle in the bridge. On Wednesday 14th October instructions were given to straighten the buckle "without further delay".

Starting at around 8.30 am on the 15th October the task of straightening the buckle began. The removal of a large amount of bolts commenced which caused a significant degree of slippage. It was then suggested that the bolts be re-tightened with an air gun. When the pressure of this caused the bolts to break, the shock reaction of the bolts failing in tension created stress. This resulted in a sliding movement which made many of the of bolt holes disappear, meaning they could not re-bolt the span and it also created more buckling to several other panels of the bridge.

Around 11.00 am that morning the Section Engineer contacted Jack Hindshaw, the Resident Engineer, and advised that things were not going well. Hindshaw arrived on site and was instantly aware that a potentially dangerous situation was imminent and decided to get further advice, making a phone call to Gerit Hardenber, a Senior Representative of WSC Melbourne. The last words that Hindshaw was heard saying were "Shall I get the bods off?" (referring to all the workers). It was then, at 11.50 am, that span 10 -11 collapsed, taking the lives of 35 men, Jack Hindshaw among them.'

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