GREEN BAY, Wis. — Curt Cornell has worked at Green Bay’s Hagemeister Park for six summers, but he’d never seen anything like what happened Sunday afternoon.
A coal ship more than 700 feet long flattened a small boat that was tied up on the edge of the Fox River outside his restaurant, then struck the Ray Nitschke Memorial Bridge, putting it out of commission for roughly four hours.
“The boat was coming in, we had a full patio, and everyone was taking pictures — the usual drill,” said Cornell, Hagemeister’s general manager. “We were in the piano bar and noticed the boat was really close. Then people just started screaming and yelling.”
As Hagemeister’s patio full of stunned patrons watched, the ship Kaye E. Barker struck the CityDeck, left a 16- to 18-foot boat in pieces, and sent kayaks tumbling from the dock into the water. The Barker then smacked the Nitschke bridge.
The incident, which happened about 3:30 p.m. CT, left the bridge stuck in the open position and forced city police to detour east-west traffic to the nearby Walnut Street Bridge. Crews were raising and lowering the bridge as of 6 p.m., but had not allowed traffic to cross.
The Nitschke Bridge reopened about 7:12 p.m.
“It was crazy,” said Elizabeth Feldhausen, who watched the incident while at Hagemeister to celebrate her niece’s 24th birthday. “Everybody started running; this family ran out yelling, ‘That’s our boat!’ It literally was gone in 30 seconds.”
Like many others at Hagemeister, she recorded camera-phone video of the incident.
No injuries were reported.
Witnesses said a U.S. Coast Guard crew was on scene almost immediately. Feldhausen said someone from the Coast Guard cut free a gasoline can from the damaged boat just as it overturned.
Vehicular traffic, meanwhile, backed up on both sides of the bridge. The other bridges in Green Bay — the Walnut Street, Don A. Tilleman and Leo Frigo Memorial — remained open.