News 6 tracks down woman once trapped in SUV dangling off I-4 bridge

Decade-plus later she's still thankful for firefighters

By Louis Bolden - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - News 6 tracked down a woman who years ago was trapped in her sport utility vehicle for an hour while it dangled from an I-4 bridge.

Central Florida and the nation watched it all unfold on live television in July 2002. 

Christine McMichael was the woman at the center of it all.

"In nearly 17 years at News 6, it is my most memorable story, which is why I wanted to track her down," investigator Louis Bolden said.

Drivers on I-4 watched as McMichael's life hung in the balance.

Many of them called 911.

"Oh my God," one caller said to the operator. "There's a car dangling from the bridge."

"They've got to stop the traffic underneath because if this thing falls it will fall on somebody," the caller said.

It's a day McMichael has not forgotten. "Every year, July 10, I think about it because that's the day it happened," McMichael said.

It was 4:30 p.m., just as rush hour traffic was picking up.

When traffic came to a complete stop, McMichael hit her brakes, lost control and the SUV flipped over the guardrail.

The bottom of the SUV caught hold of the guardrail, leaving it hanging there.

"Initially when you look down, its like, 'Oh my goodness,' like your heart just starts racing," McMichael said.

"You almost go into panic mode, but you also go into survival mode, like, 'What do I need to do now?'" she said.

McMichael willed herself not to move.

"I didn't know what was holding the car up," she said.

"I mean as you're sitting there, you're just praying to God, 'Please don’t let me fall. Please don’t let me fall,' like over and over in my head," she said.

Tow truck drivers had to secure the vehicle and eventually, McMichael has to climb out of the SUV and into the bucket truck.

She was overcome with emotion after she did it.

She now looks back at the whole thing with gratitude and a little laughter.

"That’s why I kept saying, 'Please God don't let me fall,' because I knew if I fell, I was gonna die, so let’s just not fall," she said with a laugh.

It wasn't until the next day that we learned it was a piece of steel an eighth-inch thick that was the only thing holding the nearly 5,000-pound SUV in place.

It was also the next day that we learned that when the SUV flipped, McMichael's purse fell into her lap and her cellphone fell out.

She called her husband and told him she was hanging from a bridge.

He asked, "Did you call 911?"

McMichael's answer was memorable. "I'm sure everyone else in the world called 911, so I wanted to call you," she said.

Her husband did make it down to the scene in time to see her rescued.

For a while afterward the accident, McMichael says she was recognized around town as the "girl from the bridge."

"I have a lot of people that are like, 'I was stuck in that traffic thanks to you,'" she said with a laugh. 

McMichael is no longer married.

Her son, who was nine months at the time, of the accident is 16 now.

She says she grateful she's alive to see him and says she is very happy. Living in New Smyrna Beach makes you happy, she said.

"There’s no traffic here, well there is, but not like I-4," she said.

McMichael thanked them then but says nearly 16 years later she still wants to thank the firefighters who rescued her.

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