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1972 bridge collapse survivor recalls saving his wife by teaching her to swim just days before tragedy

Donal had given his wife a life-saving swim lesson three days before the Sidney Lanier Bridge collapsed.

1972 bridge collapse survivor recalls saving his wife by teaching her to swim just days before tragedy
Cover Image Source: YouTube | CBS Philadelphia

Though it is difficult to see hope when people are going through a tough time, sometimes hearing other's stories can instill hope in us. Al Donal of Flourtown shared his story of surviving the 1972 Sidney Lanier Bridge collapse in Brunswick, Georgia. Donal got emotional when he saw the old clippings of the incident from November 7, 1972. This incident is eerily similar to the one that took place in Baltimore. At that time, he and his wife, Mary Ann, were returning from their honeymoon when the tragedy struck, per CBS Philadelphia.

Image Source: Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapses After Being Struck By Cargo Ship - Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images
Image Source: In an aerial view, the cargo ship Dali is seen after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024, in Baltimore, Maryland. Rescuers are searching for at least seven people, authorities say, while two others have been pulled from the Patapsco River. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Recalling that day, he said that he saw this "thing of lights" coming up the Brunswick River and it kept getting closer and closer. And two men ran past them and told them that "it's gonna hit." Those lights were on a ship that hit the bridge, plunging him and 22 other people into the water. 

Donal was quickly taken to the hospital and he thought that his wife had died. Later, he heard two nurses talking about Donal while looking at his hospital bracelet. He narrated, "She said, 'I'm looking at this man's tag. His wife's over there.' Chills all over. I yelled her name out, and she answered me." It all worked out because Donal had given his wife a life-saving swim lesson three days ago before the bridge collapsed. "I taught her how to tread water that night, thank God," Donal said. Today, 51 years later, they are still married with four children and four grandchildren. Unfortunately, ten people died in that incident after the Sidney Lanier Bridge fell.



Six people are said to be missing from the Baltimore bridge tragedy. US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Shannon N Gilreath suggested in a press conference that it is unlikely they would be alive due to the water temperature at that point, according to WBAL-TV. Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul J Wiedefelt stated at a press conference that eight workers were repairing potholes when the bridge collapsed. Donal shared a message to the families of the people who are yet to be found, "Keep praying. Best thing in the world."


Fire department spokesperson Kevin Cartwright said about seven vehicles fell into the water and a dive team was deployed to rescue those people, reports PEOPLE. However, he added that the conditions were "unsafe" because "some cargo or retainers hanging from the bridge" following the collision. In a video clip posted by the Harford County, MD Volunteer Fire and EMS on X, a massive part of the ship collapsed into the water and reportedly, it caught fire after the incident and black smoke was coming out of it. The container was a Singapore-flagged vessel and hit the bridge around 1:30 am and was heading to Sri Lanka. The bridge is said to be a major artery for the people in Baltimore, per the outlet. Moreover, it has the 9th largest port in the US. 


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