On New Year’s Day 1963, William Greening and his wife heard a noise “like wood breaking off” and when they investigated, William witnessed a car plunge into the waters of South West River. A spring thaw and heavy rain resulted in increased water levels and ice rushing down stream resulting in the collapse of the Port Blandford causeway. William called the RCMP, rushed to the location of the missing bridge and witnessed a second car fall into the swirling waters. Once at the location of the missing bridge section, William stopped another three vehicles from falling into the water. This was the second time in as many years that the causeway washed out. Heavy ice and rain washed away the causeway on 01 April 1962. The repaired bridge reopened for traffic on 28 April 1962.
The first car contained Robert Skiffington of Musgravetown. The second car contained Harry Allan Skiffington of Musgravetown, and Gordon Burden, Doreen Burden (Gordon’s daughter), and Alice Maude Garrett (nee Howe, wife of Walter Garrett) all of Port Blandford. Two civilian divers from Gander along with four divers from RCAF station Gander located the two cars about 300 feet from the causeway on 03 January but the car belonging to Robert Skiffington was empty when dragged ashore.
The bodies of Gordon Burden (46), Doreen Burden (17), and Alice Maude Garrett (53) were recovered when the car driven by Harry Skiffington was dragged ashore on 05 January. Funeral services were held at the Anglican Church on 06 January and all three were buried in the Anglican Church cemetery at Port Blandford.
Three civilian divers from Gander (John Walker, Mike Tonner, and James Spears) along with several small boat owners from Port Blandford assisted in the search for the two remaining bodies. The body of Harry Skiffington washed ashore on 23 March. The body of Robert Skiffington was found by causeway workers on 26 March.
Work on bridge repairs started 07 January and was expected to take about two weeks. Quick repairs were necessary as this was the only road connecting St. John’s with Port aux Basques. Work crews reconstructed the bridge by working from both ends at the same time. They were estimating that one-way traffic would be restored in about ten days. The newly constructed wooden bridge officially opened on 24 January 1963.
The Department of Highways published a tender on 14 March for a reinforced concrete bridge to replace the wooden structure built in January. Premier Joey Smallwood announced on 13 June 1963 that all 1500 wooden bridges across Newfoundland would be replaced within the next eight to ten years.
Information taken from The Daily News 03 Jan – 13 Jun 1963. Thanks to Wanda Garrett for finding this information. Photos curtesy of Pheobe Hoskins White