The Haunted Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Passing over any massive bridge spanning a large body of water, it’s natural to feel a little uneasy. Peering down over the edge into the dark, it’s easy to imagine the unthinkable, a Final Destination-like scenario of cords severing, support beams snapping, the middle giving way, and hundreds of cars tumbling down into the black water below. For many, this image is little more than a passing thought. But for 35 unlucky souls on the morning of May 9th, 1980, this nightmare became a reality when a freighter ship collided with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay, Florida. Ever since that fateful day, victims of the horrific accident are rumored to haunt the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, eternally chained there by the terror of their last moments on Earth.
So if you’re driving into Tampa over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and feel a little unsettled, it could be something beyond just the usual bridge heebie-jeebies. Perhaps the victims of the collapse are near, watching and waiting for the next catastrophe.
History and Background
The Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge, known as the Sunshine Skyway or simply the Skyway, is a massive four-lane, cable-stayed bridge stretching across the Lower Tampa Bay connecting St. Petersburg to Terra Ceia. Dark history aside, the bridge is a stunning architectural feat and a point of pride for many Floridians, considered among them a symbol of their great state.
The original bridge, which was replaced by the newer structure following the 1980 collapse, was built by the Virginia Bridge Company in September of 1954. The original structure had only two lanes and so wasn’t up to the Interstate Highway standards. In 1969, a similar structure was built parallel to it, adding two more lanes and bringing it up to code. It was then that the bridge experienced its first bit of bad luck; or was it an omen of things to come? The southern main pier had cracked due to insufficient depth of the supporting pile, delaying the newly improved bridge’s opening until 1971. Unbeknownst to drivers passing over the Skyway, disaster was to strike less than 10 years later.
At 7:30 in the morning on May 9th, 1980, Wesley MacIntire drove his pickup truck across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Without warning, the wind began to pick up, causing a nearby freighter ship by the name of MV Summit Venture to collide with the Skyway. The crash sent over 1,200 feet of the bridge plunging into the wind-tossed waters of the Tampa Bay below, taking with it six cars, a Greyhound bus, and MacIntire’s pickup. Rather than crashing into the water, the truck landed onto the port side hull of the freighter, ricocheted off, then sank. Several other drivers on the bridge were able to slam on the brakes before meeting the same fate, including former Major League Baseball player Granny Hamner.
Others were not so lucky. After scrambling to safety, Wesley MacIntire watched in horror as the Greyhound bus and six other cars were sucked below the swirling vortex of the water, never to surface again.
Onboard the MV Summit Venture, the crash had been almost inevitable. Torrential rains and the sudden increase in winds had cut the ship’s visibility and rendered its radar useless. The captain did all he could, putting the ship’s engines into full reverse and ordering an emergency anchor dropping, but it was too late. The ship’s bow collided with two support piers, causing the secondary pier to fail catastrophically.
The people of Tampa reeled in the wake of the catastrophe. It felt surreal and terrifying that a bridge many of them used every day had so suddenly and easily collapsed before their eyes. The city quickly made plans to demolish the old bridge and start anew. But before its pieces could be hauled away, Wesley MacIntire, the collapse’s sole survivor, became the last person to drive over its remains. When he reached the other side, he and his wife dropped 35 white carnations into the water, one for each victim of the collapse.
Over the next several years, Florida Governor Bob Graham oversaw production on the bridge’s new design. The improved designs featured a main span 50% wider than its predecessor, complete with large concrete barriers known as “dolphins,” sturdy enough to protect the bridge piers from collisions by ships such as the Summit Venture or larger. Construction on the bridge was completed and opened to traffic in 1987, rechristened the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge in honor of the Floridan governor.
According to Tampa locals and tourists alike, the 35 souls who perished in the crash of 1980 never left. Many drivers passing over the bridge have reported strange, unexplained happenings in the years since the tragedy. One Tampa resident reports an especially spine-tingling encounter on the haunted Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
The man claims that while driving from Terra Ceia into St. Petersburg for work one morning, he noticed something odd emerging from the thick morning fog. He squinted, unsure if what he was seeing was real or imagined. The man even removed his glasses, cleaned them on his shirt, and put them back on again to make sure he wasn’t just seeing smudges. But there, sure enough, floating over the waters of Tampa Bay, was a phantom Greyhound bus, badly damaged and dripping water like a leaky faucet. The sight was so strange that the man nearly slammed on his brakes in the middle of the bridge. But what happened next was even stranger.
From the open cavity on the bus’s side where the door must once have been, the figure of a woman in dripping wet clothing emerged. The woman smiled and waved to the man with a gloved hand. From the bus’s many windows, the man could see dozens of other apparitions, looking equally waterlogged as the waving woman. The man was so distracted by what he saw that he failed to notice his car drifting over into the adjacent lane, swerving just in time to avoid a head-on collision. By the time the man regained his composure enough to look out the window again, the mysterious floating bus had disappeared.
A second story involving the crash comes to us from its sole survivor, Wesley MacIntire. According to MacIntire’s report, haunting visions of a young girl plagued his dreams for years after the crash. Every night, nearly as soon as he had fallen asleep, he dreamed that he was underneath the water at Tampa Bay. The body of a young girl would then float toward him through the water. When he reached out to her, she opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. He would awake with a start, only to see the same girl standing over him in the dark, her long hair and disheveled clothing dripping water all over the floor. MacIntire would sit straight up in bed, gasping as if he had just broken the surface of a wave. But the room was always empty. The apparition never left a trace, except for a pool of water on the floor beside the bed.
Aside from the infamous collapse of 1980, the Sunshine Skyway bridge is no stranger to tragedy. Since its completion in 1954, over 300 people have committed suicide by jumping the 430 feet from the bridge into the water below. In response to the high number of suicides, the city of Tampa installed six crisis hotline phones along the length of the bridge in 1999, along with 24-hour patrols. By 2003, the corresponding call center located at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay received a total of 18 calls from potential jumpers, all of whom were reached in time.
Despite this improvement, many were not as lucky. Along with phantom buses, a number of spectral suicide victims have also been spotted along the edges of the ironically named Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Drivers passing over the bridge have often reported stopping their cars on to yell at what they assume are potential jumpers, only for the figures to smile sadly at them before vanishing.
Other odd reports surrounding the Sunshine Skyway Bridge include apparitions of waterlogged hitchhikers, strange chills permeating drivers’ cars, and sightings of phantom vehicles floating over the water.