Tjörn Bridge (1980) Sweden

The Tjörn or Almö Bridge, spanning the Askerö Sound, between the small islands of Källön and Almön, was one of three bridges connecting Sweden’s sixth largest island, Tjörn, to the mainland. In the early morning of January 18th 1980, a cargo ship, the Star Clipper, while being piloted through the narrow 50 metre shipping channel, collided with the bridge.

The bridge’s unique design - it was, at the time, the longest tubular steel arch bridge in the world - was much lauded for how it blended with the craggy island seascape of Sweden’s west coast. Construction began in 1956 and the bridge, built at a cost of almost €3 million, had a superstructure of parallel tubes, each 3.8 metres in diameter and a total length of more than 518 metres. It commanded the only shipping channel for large vessels heading for the seaport of Uddevalla to the north and overhead vehicular bridge traffic averaged 12,000 a day.

On that fateful night, weather conditions were far from ideal. It was a cold and misty and the bridge was simply equipped with signalling lights but no protective barriers or warning devices. Just before 1.30 a.m. in that very early mid winter morning, the overhead gantry of the Star Clipper hit the bridge and the mid section - around 244 metres - fell into the water and onto the ship. There were no cars on the bridge at the time and none of the crew of the Star Clipper was injured.

Image of Tjörn Bridge (1980)

Tjörn Bridge, Sweden

© By Dick Carlsson [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

However, in the time it took for the emergency response teams to swing into action and close off the bridge, 7 cars and 1 truck, simply following the road home, fell into the abyss. All 8 people, who plunged 30 metres into the freezing waters of the Askerö Sound, perished. The ship’s crew watched in horror, as did a truck driver who managed to bring his vehicle to a halt but could do nothing to help the car travelling the opposite approach span.

A Swedish government commission of enquiry criticised the pilot for not waiting until daylight to guide the cargo ship through the sound or not having utilised a tug boat at the time. The Swedish Maritime Administration also came under the spotlight for its management of large ships in narrow channels and the rescue operation, viewed by some to have been sluggish and not to have ensured a more prompt closing of the bridge, was also criticised.

The ghostly approach spans of the doomed crossing were used during the construction phase of a new bridge, which began in August of 1980. In the meanwhile ferry services were provided. The new Tjörn Bridge opened in November 1981.