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I-35W Bridge Collapse
Conspiracy Theories

The busy Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed at the peak of rush hour on Wednesday, August 1, 2007. Since there was no obvious cause for the bridge disaster, some fringe groups in society started to invent conspiracy theories to help bolster their secret government or supernatural agendas. Lets take a look at a few of these conspiracy stories that have emerged so far.

Popular I-35W Bridge Collapse Conspiracy Theories

1 Russians report that they have evidence that this was caused by a secret US military sound weapon being tested at the nearby secret Rand Corporation physics lab.

There does happen to be a building just south of the former bridge that was once a Rand Corporation lab for doing classified DOD work. That building is now owned by the University of Minnesota, where they continue to do classified work. However, if this was a weapon, wouldn't there be other buildings and parking ramps be damaged, not to mention the bridge that stood right next to the I-35W bridge? And if the Russians had this information, how is it that the conspiracy people got it but the reputable newspapers did not?

Update—website has admitted that they made up this story and planted it on various blog sites across the Internet. It is not true.

2 The bridge was damaged by experiments being run in a secret underground nuclear lab.

The University does have several underground facilities, and there is a nuclear research lab located within feet of the north end of the bridge. That is the Tandem Accelerator Lab. To the best of my understanding, the accelerator has been retired and removed, and the building is being cleaned up to be used for other purposes. One would think that if this facility caused damage to the bridge, it would have shown up while the accelerator was still running, and not many years after it was shut down. You might also expect other buildings to have been damaged. In fact, a power plant across the street from the Tandem Lab unexpectedly collapsed into the river about a decade ago. Bottom line is that any radiation that could damage a bridge should have caused far more damage to the people in the lab, and history has not shown that to be true.

3 Numerology predicted this event.

If you count the I as a 1, then 1 + 3 + 5 = 9. The date was August 1, and August is the 8th month, so again, 8 + 1 = 9. 2007 means 2 + 0 + 0 + 7 = 9. Since 9's are coming up all over, this bridge was doomed. The numerologists go on and on finding 9's everywhere they look. The only problem is that just adding digits to find 9 or any other number is contrived. It has no real world physical meaning. If this theory was sound, then why didn't the I-35W bridge over the Minnesota River also fall down the same day? Why didn't they predict the disaster in advance?

4 The bridge disaster was a controlled demolition.

Eye witnesses reported hearing a series of sounds that went, "bang, bang, bang, bang, bang", then the bridge rose up slightly, then it fell in from the south end to the north end. It was just like when they show controlled demolitions on TV. As it turns out, this observation is probably very accurate, but the conclusion is wrong. When a beam or brace in tension (being pulled from both ends) breaks, it does sound like a gun shot. Once a beam breaks, the bridge does not fall that instant. The bridge has mass, and it takes time to accelerate and gain speed. It may also take more than one beam to break before the bridge is doomed to falling down. So, it is not unreasonable for the bridge to have had several beams break before the bridge started to fall down. And when the beams broke, the tension could have been released as an slight upward movement. Everything that these witnesses report is consistent with a structural failure.

5 Police are keeping people so far away because MN-DOT screwed up badly in letting the bridge deteriorate, and now officials want to keep anyone from getting close enough to get photos that would show the evidence.

The huge restricted area extends upwards of mile from the site, which is not a very democratic way to run a nation. We should be allowed to observe our government in action. The Sheriff counters that this is an active crime scene that needs to be secured. If that was true, then what crime was committed? The best answer that I have heard so far is that they want to preserve the dignity of the site because there are still deceased victims in the water.

It is only natural for government agencies to want to cover their butts, but MN-DOT data is public, and they have to release it. So far, they have. The data shows that they had no reason to believe that this was a structure that was in trouble.

6 President Bush wants to fast-track the new bridge to be part NAFTA highway.

The so-called NAFTA highway, which would run from Mexico to Canada, is I-69. In reality, there is very little north of Minneapolis, especially north of Duluth. There is no market for large amounts of goods brought up on trucks. I-69 would feed such a market towards Toronto. Even I-29 would feed a relatively large market starting with Winnipeg and going west. Finally, there are truck bypasses around both sides of the Twin Cities, so the I-35W bridge is not critical for the movement of goods on a national scale.

7 It was the alignment of the planets.

Astrologers claim that the planets were lined up the same way as they were in December of 1967 when the Silver Bridge fell. The same planetary forces that brought down the Silver Bridge also caused the accident on the I-35W Mississippi River crossing. First, the planets were not in the same positions. The Silver Bridge accident was 40 years ago, and some planets have orbits that are longer than 40 years. The moon, which has the biggest pull on the planet Earth, was in a different location. Some astrologers say it was caused by the planet Mercury. As it turns out, the pull that Mercury has on Earth is minute, whereas the Sun, which is about as far away, has a huge pull on our planet. Planets simply cannot put enough force on anything to affect it here on Earth.

8 Police are covering up the fact that a large number of Somoli people were killed in the bridge collapse.

The media did become concerned that the numbers were changing, so the government officials stopped quoting numbers. Names of 8 missing have since been released. Members of the Somoli community were on TV saying that they had a long list of missing people, but that they would not release the names out of respect for the dead. This is one of those issues where you will never be able to prove or disprove what happened, but keeping it quiet would require preventing a large number of people from talking. Finally, one needs to ask how anyone would benefit from hiding the deaths of a group of minority people. Even if insurance money was an issue, relatives can wait the required seven years and file for a death certificate and collect the insurance. This theory just doesn't make sense.

9 Mothman was responsible.

The I-35W bridge collapse is one of the few bridge collapses in the US over the past 50 years that has not had an obvious cause. For example, if a ship hits a bridge, and the bridge comes down, that is pretty easy to figure out. One other such collapse was the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River on December 15, 1967. That bridge was full of rush hour traffic and Christmas shoppers. There were 46 fatalities when it collapsed into the icy Ohio River.

What is odd about the Silver Bridge is that many locals reported seeing a human-sized creature that looked a lot like an insect in the area around the bridge in the weeks before it collapsed. They called this creature Mothman. Even more strange is that the police and fire departments were bombarded with thousands of phone calls, most of which were unintelligible, leading up to the crash. About the only words that could be made out were "Ohio River disaster".

Mothman disappeared after the bridge collapse. Many locals blamed the accident on this creature. In reality, the bridge fell due to a single piece of hardware called an eye-bar that had a manufacturing defect in an area that could not be inspected. That part was non-redundant. That is, when it failed, a similar twin eye-bar could not hold the weight of that side of the bridge. The 2nd eye-bar failed, putting the full load of the bridge on the eye-bars on the other side of the bridge. They soon failed, and the structure collapsed into the river.

The I-35W bridge is similar to the Silver Bridge in that it was a non-redundant design. It had components that, when they fail, the entire bridge would collapse. Was there any Mothman sightings? So far, no one has come forward or called the Art Bell show, so I think it is safe to rule out Mothman.

Update—BBC1 planned to show the movie "The Mothman Prophecies" on Friday, August 10, but has now replaced that movie with another movie due to concern that it might "cause distress" in light of recent news events.

Update—it didn't take long. A caller to the Art Bell show (or rather, Coast To Coast AM now that Art Bell is again retired) on August 10, 2007, told host George Noory that she had seen Mothman near Stewartville, Minnesota, on June 27th. That was over a month before the bridge collapse.

10 The video tape of the collapse was edited to cut out the smoking gun.

There is an Internet story floating around that parts of the security video captured by the US Army Corps of Engineers are missing. When the video was first aired on CNN, it had timestamps in the corner of the image. At one point, the time skips from 18:01:45 to 18:01:48, skipping 3 seconds, which is an eternity during an event like this. Note that the timestamp clock was off by a few minutes. On later versions of the video, the timestamps were covered up.

It is worth mentioning that this video is not a video. Rather, it is a sequence of still photos taken from a security camera that have been joined together into a movie-like sequence. Some sources say that it is one image per second, other say it was 4 images per second. At any rate, systems that capture images in this manner are prone to missing images every so often.

At this point, it seems that the missing time is real. The question remains if this was intentional, or if that is all the data that was available. In either case, the missing frames should have been replaced with blank frames to keep the sequence of events in the video in proper time order.

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