Police, Coast Guard and private divers suspended their searches Wednesday for a missing crane operator who fell into the Elizabeth River after a bridge collapsed Tuesday night at Norshipco.
After the all-night search for George T. Freeman, 40, of Eure, N.C., was suspended by Norfolk police divers and the Coast Guard at 5 a.m. Wednesday, Norshipco officials called Crofton Diving Corp. of Portsmouth to resume dive operations, officials said.
That private search was suspended at 2 p.m. Wednesday “after it was decided that any further efforts would, in all likelihood, not be successful,” Norshipco officials said in a news release.
Norshipco is located to the west of the Berkley exit ramp of Interstate 264 near the Downtown Tunnel and beside the Elizabeth River.
The cause of the bridge’s collapse was still unknown Wednesday.
Shipyard officials confirmed that federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were at the scene Wednesday to investigate.
“We at Norshipco are deeply saddened by this tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Freeman’s family, especially his wife, Karen,” Norshipco President Al Krekich said in the release.
“We all will miss him.”
Krekich did not take questions from the media Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities said Freeman, 40, was driving a crane across the bridge about 7:30 p.m. when a 60- to 80-foot section of the bridge — which connected the Norshipco main yard to Pier 1 — fell into the river.
Freeman, a nine-year Norshipco employee, was part of a crew doing repair and maintenance work on the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Enchantment of the Seas.
When the bridge collapsed, plunging the crane and Freeman into the water, four co-workers took action, shipyard officials said. Lucas Pernas, Arnold Pate, Kenny O’Bryan and James Healy dived into the 50-degree water, estimated to be 40 to 60 feet deep, to try to save Freeman. They were treated at the scene by rescue workers for hypothermia.
The rescue workers who treated the men had been called to the cruise ship for a heart attack less than an hour before the collapse, said Jack Goldhorn, spokesman for Fire and Paramedical Services.
They had crossed the bridge in a fire engine and an ambulance to reach the ship, he said.
A witness who was visiting the cruise ship Tuesday night said she and others heard about the accident and ran out onto a deck to see what happened.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said the concrete bridge looked as though it had snapped in half.
Power lines to the ship that ran along the bridge were cut during the collapse, shutting off power to the ship and plunging the immediate area into darkness, she said.
Right after the collapse, the crane still jutted from the water as about 200 workers emerged from various jobs to see what had happened, she said. About an hour later, the crane was totally submerged.
The woman said she and others on the ship were stuck there until Norshipco could send a small barge to the ship to carry them back to the main yard.
The crane will be pulled from the river today at the earliest, said police spokesman Larry Hill.
The bridge was built in 1980. It was designed with help from the Virginia Department of Transportation to replace an older bridge that joined the yard with the pier, officials said.
They found Mr. Freeman’s body Saturday, April 17, at 5:45 PM about 100 feet from where he was last seen going under.
“We at Norshipco are deeply saddened by this tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Freeman’s family, especially his wife, Karen.”– A. Krekich, Norshipco President