"Oh my God." "He's on top of the truck." 911 calls reflect shock after semi crashes off bridge-tunnel
Watching a tractor-trailer plummet into the Chesapeake Bay is a shock, of course.
Calls coming into the Eastern Shore’s 911 center attest to that, shortly after a truck went off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel on Feb. 9.
Jeff Flournoy, the center’s director, said 10 people who dialed 911 after the accident wound up with dispatchers on the Eastern Shore. Other 911 calls may have gone to Virginia Beach’s emergency center, depending on which cell tower they pinged.
The Eastern Shore recordings begin like every 911 call.
Dispatcher: “911 – Where’s your emergency?”
Caller: “Chesapeake Bay-Bridge. We’ve got a semi that just went over the side into the water.”
Dispatcher: “OK, stay on the line with me, stay on the line with me. We’re taking several calls. I‘m going to put you on hold.”
The dispatcher calls the bridge-tunnel:
Dispatcher: “Bay-Bridge, did you guys get a report of the tractor-trailer that just went over?”
Bridge operator: “No, no. Hold on. Oh, my God.”
In the background of another call, the wind is audible. The tractor-trailer’s driver, Joseph Chen, was crossing with a lightly loaded trailer during Level 1 wind restrictions.
He went over the edge near mile marker 15 of the southbound span. Witnesses said he was trying to pass another tractor-trailer.
Chen initially survived the crash – a 20 to 30 foot drop into the frigid bay.
Dispatcher: “Do you see anybody that’s coming out of the truck?”
Caller: “Yes, he’s on top of the truck!”
Chen couldn’t hold on. Rescuers found him face down in the water. He died on the way to the hospital of drowning and hypothermia.
The 911 calls are full of shaky voices, gasps and witnesses struggling to pinpoint their whereabouts on a bridge that’s 17 miles long.
Some fretted for other tractor-trailers, asking dispatchers to stop the stream of trucks that backed up behind the accident.
Others described how quickly Chen’s trailer – broken loose from its cab – was floating away on the fast-moving, outbound tide.
The cab was raised by a crane Friday from where it sank near the foot of the bridge pilings.
The trailer has floated so far out to sea the Coast Guard is no longer tracking it.
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