NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A truck driver died on Thursday after striking a stopped maintenance vehicle on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, causing the tractor-trailer to jackknife, hit a light pole and plunge into the Chesapeake Bay, authorities said.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel connects the Eastern Shore of Virginia with Virginia Beach and spans more than 17 miles of water. It has long been considered an engineering marvel, and more than 116 million commercial and passenger vehicles have crossed the bridge-tunnel since it opened in 1964.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Deputy Director Tom Anderson said it is rare for a vehicle to crash into the water, with only about a dozen in the bridge-tunnel's 50-year history.
While the cause of the collision is under investigation, Anderson said the tractor-trailer driver apparently missed warning signs that the northbound bridge was about to become only one lane a few miles south of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
"He must've realized it at the last second, because he swerved to miss the maintenance truck that was out there. Unfortunately, he hit the back of that," Anderson said.
Anderson said the maintenance truck was on the bridge specifically to protect workers from oncoming traffic and that nobody else was injured. The maintenance crew was working to fix cracks in the bridge at the time of the accident, he said. The tractor-trailer has drifted into the Chesapeake Bay side of the bridge, and officials said the water depth is about 26 feet.
Following the morning accident, the Virginia Beach Fire Department said Navy divers who were in the area responded to try to recover the body of the truck driver. Battalion Chief Amy Valdez said the driver was heavily entangled in the truck's wreckage underneath the water.
A Navy helicopter and two Coast Guard crews also responded.
Late Thursday, Anderson said a private company of divers would be used to try to recover the driver. He said the truck was smashed and that rescuers couldn't open the door to retrieve the driver.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis