FIU bridge collapse crane operator, No one seemed to notice when a large white crane that had been working at the doomed Florida International University bridge lurched away down Tamiami Trail shortly after the span collapsed. There was a disaster to respond to: Mountains of concrete. Horribly mangled cars. Dead and injured people.

It wasn’t until some time later that authorities began wondering what happened to the crane and its operator, a close eyewitness who might help the investigation into the collapse. But he, and the crane, were gone.

“He drove away in the crane and nobody stopped him,” said Carl Robertson, 73, a homeless man who lives near the site of the bridge. Robertson was right there and saw it fall down. He was the first person to call 911, using his aging cell phone.

Photos and video taken immediately after the March 15 accident show the crane — rented from a Sweetwater firm called George’s Crane — still present on the downed bridge’s northwest side. When a Miami Herald photographer took a wide-frame aerial shot of the disaster about an hour later, the crane was nowhere in sight.

As the public tries to piece together what happened that chaotic day — at a time when government entities investigating the collapse have squeezed shut the flow of crucial information — the crane has become a source of speculation for amateur sleuths and online theorists. Readers asked the Herald: What was the crane doing and where did it go? In the absence of official explanations, some even wondered if the crane itself could have bumped the 950-ton bridge and caused the catastrophe. Did the operator then flee the scene in the most ungainly of getaway vehicles?

Here is what is known: Police don’t seem to believe the crane man fled the scene or caused the collapse, which independent engineers suspect was the result of structural and design flaws. They say the unidentified operator drove the crane a short distance away and stuck around to offer help — but for how long isn’t clear.

The crane — with the name “George’s” emblazoned prominently on the boom — had been used to lift a piece of equipment for adjusting the span’s internal steel supports around the time the bridge came crashing down at 1:47 p.m., killing six people.

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