How to increase your chances of surviving if your vehicle goes into the water

Veteran captain gives safety advice following deadly crash off Buckman Bridge

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 61-year-old man died early Tuesday morning after his pickup truck went off the Buckman Bridge and into the St. Johns River, authorities said.

State troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol are still investigating the circumstances. According to a preliminary report from FHP, a Road Rangers pickup truck hit the man’s truck, likely causing the crash. The 23-year-old driver of the Florida Department of Transportation’s contractor’s roadside service was questioned and released after cooperating with investigators. The names of those involved have not been released.

News4JAX went on the water Tuesday morning with Marine 4 and the Freedom Boat Club.

The crash happened on the lower part of the bridge closer to the Mandarin side. The distance from the roadway to the water is approximately 10 to 15 feet depending on the tide. Depth sounders show the water to be about 7 to 9 feet in the area where the truck was submerged.

It’s a scenario so many drivers fear.

“Awful, awful, just an absolute nightmare,” said Cpt. Tyler Barrus with the Freedom Boat Club. Barrus has experience with crashes like this. He’s a retired Coast Guard member and a former marine patrol deputy in New York state.

“Vehicles and typically people as well kind of drop straight down,” he said. “That’s kind of how that works. Especially the vehicle. I think the problem would’ve been waiting for some daylight to be able to see what they are doing. "

RELATED: I-TEAM looks back at crashes that have sent cars off the Buckman Bridge

Video from the Sky 4 helicopter shows several search and rescue boats and the dive team. They found the truck underwater and searched for any other possible occupants.

Troopers say a 61-year-old man is dead after a pickup truck hit by Road Ranger went over the side of the Buckman Bridge.

As state troopers continue investigating the cause and circumstances of the crash, Barrus noted drivers and passengers in a vehicle in the water have very limited time to get out — but there are things you can do to increase your chance of survival.

“It’s very hard to open the car door underwater, but that’s the instinct,” he pointed out. “So what happens if you’ve gotta let that pressure equalize and then open the door. Really the best thing to do if that happens as you’re going to have maybe a minute or so of electricity left, that’s going to keep flowing. Try and get that window open.”

Many people carry tools in their vehicles to break a window. In this case, what happened before the driver’s death is unknown. It was dark, the water was murky, the driver could have been disoriented, in shock, or knocked out from the impact.

FDOT and FHP noted that the bridge was safe for vehicle traffic after clearing the scene. News4JAX did not see any structural damage to the bridge from the water level.

Window breaking tool. (Special to WJXT)

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.