A young University of B.C. hockey player whose car plunged 15 metres into the icy water of Washington State’s Skagit River after a bridge collapse said he thought he would die inside his vehicle.

Bryce Kenning, 20, was driving across the bridge on his way to Bellingham to play hockey Thursday night when the span gave way in front of him.

“All of a sudden there was a huge explosion…and the ground of the bridge started falling into the water,” he told a reporter from Seattle TV station KOMO.

Kenning’s car crashed into the water below, the impact setting off all of the airbags. The vehicle began filling with water, and he started to panic when he was unable to kick out the windshield.

“I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” he said. “I pulled on the handle and kicked on the door as hard as I could. I was able to get out."

Wet and freezing, but safe, Kenning climbed on the hood of his orange Subaru and waited for help. He was treated in hospital for a bump on his head and a possible concussion, but says he’s feeling fine – and counting his blessings.

“I must have some pretty good guardian angels watching over me,” he said.

Police believe Alta. trucker may be to blame

Authorities say the collapse may have been triggered by an oversized semi-truck striking one of the bridge’s girders.

Sgt. Kirk Rudeen, of the Washington State Patrol, said the rig made it across the four-lane span but the bridge collapsed behind him, sending the structure tumbling down into the river.

Three people, including Kenning, were plucked safely from the water.

Police haven named William Scott, a 41-year-old resident of Spruce Grove, Alta., as the trucker alleged to have struck the bridge.

His wife Cynthia Scott told CTV News Friday that her husband has an impeccable safety record, and was “horrified” as he watched the bridge collapse behind him in his rear-view mirror.

“He is shaken up,” Scott said. “He was really scared for the people that had fallen off the bridge, and he was really happy to hear that they were fine and that was the real blessing. Because vehicles can be replaced, trucks can be replaced, bridges can be replaced, but people can’t.”

She said her husband has been driving a truck for 20 years and has between 10 and 15 years of “heavy haul experience.” He has won awards and bonuses for his commitment to safety, she added.

Scott believes it’s “too early to say” what caused the bridge to fall, based on pictures she has seen of the truck.

“I’ve seen pictures of the damage and the damage is so minimal,” she said. “If it hit at all, it seems physically impossible to have done any kind of damage to a structure, never mind take it down. It just seems structurally impossible.”

The bridge spanned the river along Interstate 5, about 130 kilometres south of the B.C. border. Helicopter footage suggests that the bridge fell straight down along with some of the metal supports above the bridge, creating a tangle of wreckage where the bridge met the water.

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said it appeared as though two semi trucks were crossing the four-lane bridge at the same time, both heading southbound, when one of them collided with part of the bridge.

"Early indications tell us we had a semi-truck southbound on Interstate 5 in the right lane, which we call lane 1. At this point, we had a semi, which was also southbound, in lane 2, the left lane. For reasons unknown at this point in time, the semi-truck struck the overhead of the bridge," Batiste told reporters.

‘We pride ourselves in doing things the proper way’

William Scott works for Mullen Trucking, and company vice president Ed Scherbinski told The Associated Press it received a Washington State permit to carry the oversized load across the bridge.

Scherbinski said the company also hired a local escort to navigate the route.

"This is what we do for a living. We pride ourselves in doing things the proper way," Scherbinski said.

The collapse cuts off the main route between Washington State and Canada. Motorists were being asked to avoid the area and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The accident occurred just ahead of the Sasquatch Music Festival in Quincy, Wash., which attracts many Canadians each year who would normally take the highway to get there.

Dan Sligh and his wife were among those rescued from the river, along with another man. All three were hurt, though the extent of their injuries is not known.

Sligh said he and his wife were heading out on a camping trip in their pickup truck when the bridge effectively disappeared in front of them.

"I hit the brakes and we went off," Sligh told reporters from a hospital where he was being treated for his injuries.

He added the couple "saw the water approaching ... you hold on as tight as you can."

Jeremiah Thomas, a volunteer firefighter, said he was driving nearby when he glimpsed something out of the corner of his eye and turned to look.

"The bridge just went down, it crashed through the water," he told The Associated Press. "It was really surreal."

Could it happen in B.C.?

A U.S. Highway Administration database lists the Skagit River Bridge as “functionally obsolete,” meaning the design is outdated, likely due to factors such as having narrow shoulders and low clearance.

But the bridge, which was built in 1955, is not classified as structurally deficient.

The technical term for the Skagit bridge is a “through truss,” which are made up of connected elements above and below the roadbed. UBC engineering professor Perry Adebar said the design can make them vulnerable.

“It’s a bunch of light steel members that are all connected together to kept it stable. You lose one of them, that lattice work collapses,” Adebar said.

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation confirms there are bridges in the province with similar designs, though none in Metro Vancouver, and none that would be prone to collapse like the one in Washington State.

“I want to assure the public that our bridges are safe,” said B.C.’s chief bridge engineer Kevin Baskin.

The Skagit River Bridge was given a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to U.S. records. That puts it below the statewide average, but still above 79 bridges in the state that have a lower sufficiency score.

With files from CTV British Columbia’s Rob Brown and The Associated Press