CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Ben Cedar crossed the Silver Bridge three times on the day it fell.
He was working as a Kirby sweeper salesman back then, and crossing the bridge was the fastest way to get across the Ohio River from his home base in Ravenswood.
"I was worried about that bridge every time I crossed over," he said. "If you got stuck in the middle of that bridge, it would wave back and forth, back and forth."
He crossed the Silver Bridge for the final time just before 5 p.m. on Dec. 15, 1967, headed for Gallipolis, Ohio. Once there he stopped at a Kroger store and used a payphone to call his office, just to check in
As he was in the store, he overheard other customers talking about a bridge collapse.
"I didn't have any idea what they were talking about," said Cedar, now 75.
He asked someone what had happened, and they told him the Silver Bridge had fallen.
"I said, 'I just crossed that bridge 15 or 20 minutes ago.' "
Cedar headed back toward the span. He remembers seeing a large truck stuck on the Ohio side of the bridge, its trailer hanging down into the water. One of his co-workers was supposed to meet him in Gallipolis but had not yet arrived.
For all Cedar knew, the man was on the bridge when it fell.
About the same time, 31-year-old State Trooper Rudy Odell was standing on the West Virginia side of the river. He also was surveying the damage.
Odell, now 76, might have been the first law enforcement officer to respond to the disaster.
He was in downtown Point Pleasant when the bridge collapsed. Earlier that day, a man from Hutchinson Insurance called the local State Police detachment office wanting to talk with Odell, but he wasn't at his desk. The secretary radioed Odell and asked him to stop by the man's office.
He parked his car on Main Street, just two blocks from the bridge's on-ramp. He got out of the cruiser and had started to walk inside the insurance agency when he heard a low rumble.
"It sounded like someone upstairs moving furniture," he said.
Odell stepped back onto the sidewalk. A man across the street hollered at him, saying someone had gone through the bridge. Odell ran toward the river and up the bridge's ramp, where he found a "very pregnant" lady standing beside her car.
Her name was Charlene Clark. She had been on the bridge as it began to fall. Seeing the road collapsing before her, she shifted into reverse and sped backward toward land.
Odell said Clark was "shook up," but otherwise fine.
"I would have been shook up, too," he said. "It sheered off right at the water line on the West Virginia side."
He left Clark and continued toward the collapse.
It was a dreary, murky day, so Odell couldn't see much of the wreckage. Some trailers had broken loose from their trucks and were floating downstream.
The murkiness did nothing to quiet the cries coming from the river, however.
"I could hear them hollering for help. I didn't know how many there were at that time," he said. "There was absolutely nothing I could do. It was a long way out into the water. Nobody could get to it."
Odell headed back to his car and radioed the State Police headquarters in South Charleston. He doesn't remember what he did for the rest of his shift, but for the next few weeks he was stationed on a river barge helping recover vehicles and bodies from the river.
Forty-six people died in the disaster, but Cedar's coworker was not one of them. He was one car back when the bridge collapsed, right behind Charlene Clark.
Opened in 1928, the Silver Bridge connected Point Pleasant and Gallipolis and was the first bridge in the United State to forgo a wire cable suspension for an "eyebar link" suspension, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia.
The bridge was held above the water using a series of flat metal links joined by steel "eyebars." These eyebars were about 12 inches wide and 2 inches thick, resembling giant-sized automotive wrenches.
Odell said as the bridge collapsed, the deck turned upside down, dumping cars and trucks into the water. The bridge fell moments later, crushing many of those vehicles.