Tanker explodes on I-465 ramp - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Tanker fire forces I-465 to close

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Photo courtesy Benjamin Langhammer Photo courtesy Benjamin Langhammer
Photo courtesy Matt Kistler, taken at 75th & Binford Photo courtesy Matt Kistler, taken at 75th & Binford
Photo courtesy Patrick O'Keefe Photo courtesy Patrick O'Keefe

Indianapolis - A semi tanker carrying liquid propane exploded on the southbound ramp from I-69 to I-465 Thursday morning at around 10:30 am. Several people were injured and the clean-up is causing huge traffic back-ups in the area. The bridge could be closed for weeks, and INDOT engineers are inspecting it for damage.

Road closures

Fourteen miles of I- 465 have been shut down and could be closed through rush hour Friday morning.

I-465 eastbound is closed at exit 31 (Meridian/U.S.31). All eastbound I-465 entrance ramps east of that location are closed. Traffic must exit at exit 31 and go north or south. Any traffic traveling eastbound enroute to I-69 will be diverted northbound on U.S. 31 to State Road 28, eastbound on S.R. 28 to I-69.

I-465 northbound is closed at exit 44 (I-70). All northbound I-465 entrance ramps north of that location are closed.

I-69 southbound is closed at exit 22 (State Road 67-Madison County). Traffic will be diverted southbound on S.R. 67 to S.R. 9 to I-70. All southbound I-69 entrance ramps south of that location are closed.

See suggested routes here.

Witnesses help driver from truck

Witnesses at the scene say several drivers helped pull the truck driver out of the vehicle. The driver, 73-year-old Ronald Tobias, was taken to Methodist Hospital. Tobias, who is from Syracuse, Indiana, was listed in good condition as of 4:00 pm.

Police say Tobias was driving a semi tanker loaded with liquid propane when he lost control on the ramp from southbound I-69 to southbound I-465. The semi rolled, causing the tractor to catch fire and the propane tank to explode.

Several people helped pull Tobias from the burning tanker just before it exploded. Tobias was transported to Methodist hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Seven other vehicles were damaged by the explosion resulting in three other people receiving minor injuries. Those people were Edward D. Martin, age 40, of Indianapolis, who was transported to Wishard, Elizabeth Fortune, age 39, of Indianapolis, and Lorin Hunter, age 22, also of Indianapolis. Hunter and Fortune sought medical treatment on their own.

Lonnie Hood was working nearby when he heard the explosion. He was one of two men who helped the truck driver out of the burning vehicle.

"We just seen a big old fireball. We were working in the apartments over here on the side of the interstate and we seen a big massive fireball like you wouldn't believe. We just ran over here to see if everybody was okay," he said.

"We got him out. We just ran up to him. He was trying to get out. We were trying to pull the broken windshielf off to pull him out. Me and another guy pulled him out of there and just drug him down the road here and his whole truck blew up."

Hood said he was scared the truck would blow up because it was on fire. He said he had never experienced anything like it.

"It just felt like an explosion. It was a massive explosion. It just roared in my chest. It was unreal."

"I was yelling at them to get back away from the truck because they were literally grabbing the windshield to pull it open as it's in flames. I was probably 15 feet away from the truck. As they brought him down we just carried him," said Eric Brokamp, another witness who helped at the scene.

Medics treated other burn victims at the scene, including a driver who was behind the tanker when it exploded. Other drivers were able to put their vehicles in reverse to avoid being burned. The driver suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands and head.

Other witnesses reported flames surrounding their vehicles, but they were able to get out safely once the fire retreated.

The fire from the vehicle created dark plumes of black smoke up to 300 feet high which could be seen for miles. Witnesses reported an explosion and a huge fireball at the time of the accident. Police believe the southbound tanker was traveling from I-69 to I-465 when it rolled and caught fire.

Bridge inspected for damage

Dick Groves with the Lawrence Township Fire Department said the I-465 east-west bridge over I-69 sustained a significant impact when the tanker hit it. Structural engineers are inspecting the bridge.

State Police Sgt. Anthony Emery says traffic on I-465 near the explosion scene will be closed until the bridge is tested for safety.

A second alarm was requested to the scene. Views from a tower cam showed that the billboards were also on fire, and a cell phone tower also caught fire.

Witnesses report huge fireball

Witness Danielle Smith was on 465 headed to Keystone at the Crossing. In her rear-view mirror, she saw a wall of flames.

"I didn't know if it was a truck or a building or anything like that. All the traffic started slowing down," she said.

After the flames, Smith said she saw a lot of smoke. She wasn't sure what type of vehicle was involved.

Diane Frisk works nearby. She reported a big roar and then looked out her office window.

"I had never seen such a large mushroom of fire. It just kept growing and growing," she said.

"I didn't know what to think. It was very, very scary. The whole building was shaking. It was an unbelievable experience."

She said other people told her they saw the ball of fire above the top of her building and that they could feel the heat from the fire in their cars.

Witness Benjamin Langhammer writes:

"It appears [the tanker] slid along the guardrail and clipped the first pillar of the eastbound overpass. You can see one of the axles in the middle of the road and possible marks from the tanker flipping at the base of the picture. It is hard to see as someone is putting out the fire on it creating smoke, but the Volvo off to the left was completely charred and from the sounds of the news reports this person got out of their vehicle and was on fire, rolled on the ground, and suffered some minor burns."

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