There was no warning before Lou Lessard and his crew fell into Burrard Inlet on June 17, 1958.
Lessard, now a Langley resident, was a 29-year-old foreman that day, working with numerous others on the construction of the Second Narrows Bridge.
“It was a hot day,” Lessard recalled. He and his crew had a big job – they were moving a 55 ton girder into place.
“The bridge came down from under our feet,” Lessard said.
He fell one hundred feet into the water, and kept going down.
With his left leg and right arm broken, and his back injured, Lessard found himself in water turned black by the silt thrown up by the collapsing structure.
“It was dark, you could not see nothing,” Lessard said. “There was no air, and the water did not taste too good.”
Finally he saw a little light, and made it to the surface. He clung to a piece of debris until one of the safety boats came over to collect him.
Firefighters put Lessard in the back of a pickup truck for the trip to the hospital.
In total, 18 men died from the actual collapse.
“Half of them were working for me,” Lessard said.
A rescue diver died two days later, bringing the total losses to 19.
Despite the harrowing experience, Lessard returned to work on the bridge when construction resumed, months later.
The first day on the site, he went over all the calculations with the new engineers, he said. By then they knew what had gone wrong with the first bridge to cause the collapse.
He spent two more years working on what is now known as the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge, in honour of the workers who died that day.
Lessard put safety at the forefront of every job during his career.
“I never lost a man, and I never had a man hurt,” he said.
“I always preach and talk about safety,” he added.
Lessard was at this year’s ceremony to honour the workers who died. The survivors promised that they would never forget the people they lost, who Lessard called brothers.