2018 Breaking News, Medium Newsroom winner

Collapse of the Florida International University Bridge

About the Project

At precisely 1:47 p.m. on March 15, 2018, the sky fell in on an utterly unsuspecting collection of motorists, crushing them in their cars. Florida International University’s pedestrian bridge, still under construction, crashed down on Southwest Eighth Street, along the school’s north perimeter in a 950-ton heap. The five motorists who died almost surely never knew what hit them. A sixth individual, a bridge worker, also died.

It was both a ghastly sight and a vitally important news story. Within nine minutes, the Miami Herald was rapidly pushing out the first of dozens of updates that day. Within 12 minutes, the Herald was on the scene, tweeting out photos and videos that vividly captured the helplessness of the rescuers and the droning of horns as concrete pressed down on lifeless motorists and their steering wheels.

In the first 36 hours, the Herald published more than a dozen stories — stories that were continuously updated, refined and refocused — as conditions changed and new details emerged. Important information was ferreted out on the fly, like the fact that cracks in the structure had been reported to the state two days earlier. And that a meeting had been conducted that very morning between the builder, the designer, the university and the Florida Department of Transportation to talk about what to do about those cracks. And that the builder of the bridge had been performing stress tests at the exact moment the bridge came down.

We told the story of bridge worker Navaro Brown, who came to South Florida as a “humble, hard-working” Jamaican youth, and who died when the structure crumbled beneath him. And we interviewed the father of Alexa Duran, a student whose Toyota 4Runner was crushed in such a way that she was killed but her friend, sitting next to her, emerged unscathed.

In those first hours, we located dashcam video of the bridge collapse, which also showed some motorists abandoning their cars and sprinting to render aid while others did hasty u-turns and fled as if late for an appointment. And we raised questions about why the busy road had not been closed to traffic during the “stress testing.”

The Herald also provided users of its website drone footage of the ruins.

The story of the bridge has continued to develop. We have sued the state to obtain minutes, notes and recordings of the meeting that occurred that morning. We have brought in engineers to study thousands of pages of excruciatingly technical designs. We also told the strange story of the crane operator who was working on the bridge and who vanished in a cloud of exhaust — behind the wheel of his crane — in the moments after the disaster occurred. No one is quite sure why.

But we are particularly proud of our performance during those first frantic 24 to 36 hours. And we are happy to share it here.