A fuel tanker hauling thousands of gallons of jet fuel overturned and exploded on an Indiana overpass, sparking a dramatic fire, closing lanes and backing up traffic for miles on two interstate highways Thursday afternoon.
Authorities say the semitrailer was hauling 4,000 gallons of jet fuel when it hit a guardrail on an on-ramp from Interstate 465 to I-70 just before 2 p.m. in Indianapolis. The tanker split open and exploded as the semi overturned, the Indianapolis Fire Department said.
A large fire could be seen engulfing much of the onramp as the fuel spilled out of the tanker, spreading nearly 500 feet and affecting both sides of the bridge.
Two witnesses, identified as Holly McNally and Mitch Navarre, stopped to assist as the 59-year-old truck driver managed to exit the cab on his own.
"Holly told firefighters that the jet fuel was literally pouring down the embankment as they retreated," the fire department's statement said.
In fact, Holly had recently given birth to her fourth child early Sunday morning, and had been driving home from the hospital when she saw the driver exiting the cab, his clothes on fire. As she ran to assist the driver, she was met by Navarre, who had a blanket they used to extinguish the flames and cover the driver.
It took about 40 minutes for three tankers from the Indianapolis Fire Department to extinguish the blaze as firefighters had to rely on tankers to supply their water because of a lack of access to fire hydrants near the interstate.
Unsafe speed is believed to be the cause of the accident. The driver was taken to the hospital in critical condition after suffering 'significant burns.'
According to Brian Harvey, an engineer with Indiana's Department of Transportation said in a Twitter video posted by the department that the debris would have be cleaned up before they could determine whether the overpass was still safe to use after the raging fire.
"The tanker was coming around the curve and had lost control, collided with the guardrail and then flipped, and then spilled jet fuel on the topside of the bridge here, and it has caused a great amount of heat that's caused 'spalling on the barrier.'
Harvey explained that spalling is when heat has built up inside the concrete and the moisture inside begins to boil, increasing the pressure which causing the concrete to break apart.
"Everything you're looking at here has to be moved, and then they have to bring a sweeper vehicle to sweep up all the loose material. And then we will have to make an evaluation at that time how extensive the deck's damaged and how much further work needs done before we can open it."
Photo: Indiana State Police