The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened to the public in 1954. In 1969, a similar structure was built parallel to it to make it a four-lane bridge. From 1954 to 1980, thousands of large ships and boats passed underneath the bridge without incident. Then, during a violent thunderstorm on May 9, 1980, a tragedy occurred. The freighter Summit Venture collided with one of the bridge's western columns, causing 1,200 feet of bridge to collapse and killing 35 people. In 1987, a new Sunshine Skyway Bridge was constructed. Rather than removing all of the bridge, the remaining structures were renovated and in 1994 they became Skyway Fishing Pier State Park.
The freighter, Summit Venture, collided with a column of the Skyway Bridge during a storm on May 9, 1980, collapsing the bridge onto the bow of the vessel. Six vehicles and a Greyhound bus on the bridge above plummeted 150 feet into the sea and a total of 35 lives were lost.
Richard Hornbuckle and three of his friends were heading south over the Skyway Bridge on May 9, 1980, when Richard noticed that the bridge had disappeared in front of him. He stepped on his brakes and his Buick stopped just 14 inches from the severed edge of the bridge. One of the gentlemen in the car gripped the grate of the bridge to crawl back to a safer location when he noticed Richard Hornbuckle returning to the car - he had to retrieve his golf clubs from the trunk.
The steel superstructure of the northbound lanes, intact, with the southbound lanes missing. The column that was involved in the collision snapped off just above the water.
After all of the victims and vehicles were recovered, crews came in and began removing the steel beams and pieces of the concrete column that lay in the water.
In 1992, the center spans of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge were finally demolished with well-planned removal of the steel and detonations of the concrete columns. The remaining sections of bridge were converted into fishing piers. Debris that was salvaged from the wreckage was used as artificial reefs that are in place today beneath the waters alongside the piers.