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Engineers And Officials Discussed Cracks In The Florida Bridge Just Hours Before It Collapsed

The cracks were observed on the north end of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University, where construction workers were tightening cables when the structure failed.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 2:30 p.m. ET

Posted on March 16, 2018, at 10:02 p.m. ET

The new pedestrian bridge that was under construction collapsed onto a busy Miami highway Thursday afternoon.
Wilfredo Lee / AP

The new pedestrian bridge that was under construction collapsed onto a busy Miami highway Thursday afternoon.

The lead engineer in charge of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University called and left a voicemail to inform state transportation officials about cracks in the structure, but the message was not received until a day after it collapsed, killing at least six people.

In a statement early Saturday morning, FIU also said there had been a meeting at the bridge on Thursday morning just hours before the collapse to discuss the crack. The two-hour meeting included representatives from FIU, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and engineers with the Design Build Team of MCM and FIGG.

"The FIGG engineer of record delivered a technical presentation regarding the crack and concluded that there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge," the FIU statement read.

The FDOT disclosed details of the call made by W. Denney Pate, of FIGG Bridge Group, on Friday as rescue teams continued to search the rubble for victims crushed under the 950-ton bridge.

FIGG is one of the companies hired by the university to install the pedestrian bridge.

"So, uh, we've taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done," Pate said in the message, the audio of which was posted by the Miami Herald. "I wanted to chat with you about that because I suspect at some point that's gonna get to your desk."

The voicemail was left Tuesday, three days after the bridge had been installed and two days before the collapse, but the FDOT employee was out on assignment and did not receive the message until Friday, according to a statement by the state agency.

Pate identified the cracks as being on the north end of the span of the bridge, the horizontal part of the bridge located between the vertical support structures.

In the voicemail, however, Pate states that "from a safety perspective, we don't see that there's any issue there so we're not concerned about it from that perspective."

Meanwhile, multiple investigations by local and federal agencies are taking place to determine what went wrong with the bridge, why it collapsed, and if officials should have shut down traffic underneath it while work was being conducted on the structure before its failure.

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Crushed cars are shown under the new pedestrian bridge Friday, March 16, after it collapsed Thursday.
Wilfredo Lee / AP

Crushed cars are shown under the new pedestrian bridge Friday, March 16, after it collapsed Thursday.

In a news conference Friday evening, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said construction crews were tightening two cables of the bridge to strengthen a diagonal portion of the structure at the time it gave way.

"Is that where the point of failure was? That's yet to be determined," Robert Accetta, lead investigator for the NTSB, told reporters.

NTSB officials said the investigation is still in its early phase and the cause for why the bridge collapsed has yet to be determined.

Robert Sumwalt, chair of the NTSB, said the agency had not yet determined if there were cracks on the bridge. Accetta told reporters if there were cracks on the bridge, they might not necessarily cause it to fall.

Sumwalt also told reporters they were unaware of any tips or calls made about possible problems with the bridge, which had just been partially installed Saturday.

While releasing details of the message that was discovered Friday, the FDOT stated it was the responsibility the Florida International University design and building team to "identify and address life-safety issues and properly communicate them."

"FIGG and the FIU design build team never alerted FDOT of any life-safety issue regarding the FIU pedestrian bridge prior to collapse," the statement read.

The agency also stated it was unaware of any testing being conducted on the bridge, and that the agency would "issue a permit for a partial or full road closure if deemed necessary and requested by the FIU design build team or FIU contracted construction inspector for structural testing."

2 crushed cars pulled from debris, being escorted to ME’s office #breaking #fiubridgecollaspe @WPLGLocal10

On Saturday morning, the first two vehicles had been extracted from under the bridge. By evening, Miami-Dade police said in a tweet, two additional vehicles had been removed, and were transported to the medical examiner's office to identify any bodies inside.

As of Saturday night, police had confirmed the identities of four of the six victims of the bridge collapse, including one person who was rescued Thursday had died at a nearby hospital.

"We obviously have an idea of who is in the vehicles and who those three individuals are," Perez said. "As these individuals, these victims are being brought out, we're paying them respect by a moment of silence, and we have our chaplains plugged into that process as well, and they're being escorted to the medical examiner's office so the victims have dignity."

Perez said authorities are confident the five victims extracted from under the bridge were the only people under the debris, leaving the death toll at six. He added that though there are still vehicles under the bridge, but officials believe there are no bodies inside them.

"The family members, I don't even know how they are able to hold up," Perez said.

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CORRECTION

Robert Accetta's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.

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