The Northerly Island wedged between two Bonner Bridge spans in 1990. (Dare County Archives)

The Northerly Island wedged between two Bonner Bridge spans in 1990. (Dare County Archives)

It was 30 years ago that life on Hatteras Island changed radically. October 26, 1990, that was the day the 130-foot dredge Northerly Island slammed into the Bonner Bridge at 1:28 in the morning taking out a 370’ section of the bridge.

It was a hard nor’easter that was blowing that night. Around 10:30 p.m. the dredge slipped its moorings and driven by gusts as high as 90 mph, drifted inexorably toward the bridge.

At 1:00 a.m. the captain notified the Coast Guard that he could not control his vessel and it was drifting to the Bonner Bridge. Police and the Coast Guard scrambled to seal the bridge and keep traffic off it.

Somehow they did; when the barge struck the bridge there were no cars on it and no one was injured.

Suddenly Hatteras Island and Ocracoke were plunged into darkness. The Bonner Bridge carried the power lines. And at a time when cell phones were a rarity, the phone line was also severed, cutting off communication with the rest of the world.

Ferry service allowed transportation supplies to come from the mainland. Pamlico Sound, though, is not well-suited for regular ferry connections and schedules and routes changed with the weather.

It took three and a half months to fix the damaged stand and reconnect Hatteras and Ocracoke with the rest of the world.

The Modern Day Impact of the Bonner Bridge Collapse

The impact of that fateful day in 1990 can be seen today. The Marc Basnight Bridge that replaced the Bonner Bridge has much wider and higher spans, a design feature that would probably have prevented the damage to the bridge.

Not as apparent, but perhaps even more important, the bridge itself is designed to withstand the impact of a Northerly Island crashing into the bridge.

The Bonner Bridge is being disassembled. Its remains will be taken to sea to create new reef habitat in the ocean.

Fall and winter is a wonderful time on the Outer Banks. The pace is slower, but it is as friendly as it ever was. See for yourself with an off season visit with Brindley Beach Vacations.