‘We need to get people off the bridge’: I-40 bridge inspectors make frantic calls to 911

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — We now know what happened the moments after inspectors discovered a significant crack in the I-40 bridge. WREG has obtained audio from two 911 calls placed just minutes apart Tuesday afternoon.

The first call was made by a man who said he was doing an inspection on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge and needed to get people off the bridge as soon as possible.

“We just found a super critical finding that needs traffic shut down in both directions on the I-40 Mississippi River bridge. I’ve already talked to the ARDOT people, and they are working on it,” the inspector said.

Listen: “We need to get people off the bridge…”

Inspectors on the I-40 bridge (ARDOT photo)

When the dispatcher pressed the man further to determine what was going on, the inspector tried desperately to explain how serious the problem was.

“We have critical findings in one of the members that has split. We need to get people off the bridge immediately,” said the inspector.

The inspector was with Michael Baker International, an engineering firm hired by the Arkansas Department of Transportation to inspect the I-40 bridge.

Another woman with Michael Baker placed a second call to 911. In the 911 call, you can hear her talking to other people on the bridge as she tries to get some help.

“We have spoken with Arkansas because they hired us. We just need police cars out here. To get the traffic off the bridge,” said the woman.

Listen: “We just need police cars out here”

Wednesday, ARDOT released pictures of a 24″ by 30″ steel beam it said was cracked all the way through. ARDOT called it a significant fracture to a beam crucial to the bridge’s integrity but could not say how long it would take to repair.

ARDOT said it is responsible for routine and inspections of the nearly 50-year-old bridge and the Tennessee Department of Transportation is responsible for maintenance and repairs.

TDOT could not tell us how long it took for the bridge to be cleared after the 911 calls were made but said the response was rather quick.

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