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“The bridge is now swaying:” The 1972 Colgante Bridge Tragedy

We remember today the Colgante Bridge Tragedy, which claimed the lives of 138 devotees after the collapse of the said bridge collapsed on 16 September 1972. The tragedy occurred during the aforementioned year’s Fluvial Procession, wherein the miraculous images of the Divino Rostro and Our Lady of Peñafrancia were being brought back to the Peñafrancia Shrine through the Naga River, following the nine-day novena at the Metropolitan Cathedral.

In the book “Ina: Little Stories of Faith,” the tragedy is recounted with narratives of some survivors. Most of them say that innumerable devotees and onlookers gathered on the then-wooden bridge to get a better view of the procession below. With authorities unable to control the large crowd, the bridge eventually collapsed. When the bridge collapsed, many people were hit by debris. Some others were hit by fellow devotees and onlookers. Victims were immediately rushed to the Colegio de Sta. Isabel, and other nearby hospitals for treatment. Bodies of the deceased were laid on the riverbanks waiting to be identified or brought to the mortuary, with Fr. Alfonso Grageda blessing each with Holy Oils.

In the same book, the account of the late +Santiago Ojeda, who died in the tragedy, gave further light on what occurred immediately prior to the collapse of the bridge. Ojeda had brought with him a video camera and voice recorder to the bridge. After the tragedy, his voice recorder was recovered, with his words recorded on the tape: “this bridge is full of people and I don’t see anyone directing traffic here. Some years ago, the same bridge collapsed due to the heavy weight of devotees and onlookers watching the fluvial procession. Now it’s beginning to sway a little. I’m afraid it won’t hold out much longer unless someone tells those people to stop adding their weight to it. The bridge is now swaying…”

The tragedy claimed the lives of 138 devotees and onlookers, and injured over a hundred others. Most of the deaths were caused by drowning or electrocution when live wires hit the river. The bridge collapse made headlines nationwide, but was overshadowed five days later by the imposition of Martial Law by then-President Ferdinand Marcos.

As we remember today the said tragedy, we pray for the eternal repose of the souls of the victims. Through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, and through the Mercy of the Holy Face of her Son, the Divino Rostro, may their souls rest in peace. Amen.

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