A contract construction worker is missing and presumed drowned after falling 200 feet from the Lewis and Clark Bridge into the Columbia River on Sunday morning, according to the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office.
The man — who police are not identifying yet — was working on a platform underneath the mid-point of the bridge when another worker saw him fall into the river at about 11:30 a.m. The Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Coast Guard, local tug boat operators and private recreational boaters searched the river for nearly three hours but were unable to find him.
Cowlitz Dive and Rescue was on scene but did not take part in the search due to safety concerns.
"That section of the river is a hazardous place to dive," said Charlie Rosenzweig, Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office's chief criminal deputy. "It's high risk on a good day."
There was nothing at the site that explained why the worker's safety equipment did not prevent his fall, and co-workers described the missing man as safety conscious and experienced at bridge work, according to the Sheriff's Office.
"We'll probably learn what happened when and if we locate him," Rosenzweig said. "Nothing at the scene clearly explains (how he fell)."
Sheriff's office officials are unsure if and when they will continue the search for the missing worker.
The man's name and information will not be released until his family has been notified.
Don Wagner, regional administrator for Washington state Department of Transportation's Southwest Region, said the worker was part of a rigging crew that was installing underdeck platforms at the time of his fall. WSDOT hired Houston, Pa.-based Odyssey-Geronimo JV to repaint the Lewis and Clark Bridge in 2010.
"We take the safety of all workers, whether they're our employees or contractors, seriously," Wagner said. "An investigation will tell us what happened, but for right now we want to extend our sympathy to the family and crews for this tragedy."