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Fifteen years later, Minnesota photographer remembers I-35W bridge collapse

Stacy Bengs was a student at the U of M on Aug. 1, 2007. She was just blocks away from the I-35W bridge when it collapsed.

MINNEAPOLIS — Stacy Bengs remembers exactly where she was on Aug. 1, 2007. It was the summer before her senior year at the University of Minnesota and she was at her house in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, just three blocks from the I-35W bridge.

"[We] just heard something and felt something very faint," Bengs said. 

Then, she got a call from her editor at the Minnesota Daily, the U's student newspaper. The editor told her the bridge had collapsed.

"I went out on our balcony and I saw a part of the bridge sticking straight up," she said. "I left instantly."

She estimates within the next 20 minutes she was at the site of the collapse, ready to start taking photos. She climbed down an embankment and made it right next to the part of the bridge that had collapsed over land. Her first photo of the site next to the bridge shows injured victims being lined up on plywood, waiting to be taken from the scene.

"I just remember making eye contact with some people and everyone was in just such shock," she said.

Credit: Stacy Bengs
Stacy Bengs took this photo of the I-35W bridge collapse on August 1, 2007. She was going into her senior year at the U of M at the time.

The collapse killed 13 people and injured 145 others. The National Transportation Safety Board identified the cause as gusset plates that were too thin under the weight of the bridge, its traffic, and construction at the time.

Bengs took photos until after dark that day.

"We got the pictures on the computers and we started looking at them, and I don’t think it was until then we were like, 'Woah. We were really down there," she said.

Bengs is now photographs weddings and does freelance photography for the Associated Press. But her photographs from the collapse are never far from her mind.

"It’s changed me from the perspective of knowing how precious every moment is," she said.

Learn more about a display from the Minnesota Historical Society featuring the back door from the school bus trapped on the bridge here: 

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