Janie asked, so here's the story:
It wasn't a tall bridge. From the deck, to the broken concrete rip-rap, it was only about 15 feet. It was all that remained of an abandoned railroad. It had to go for the new concrete bridge, which was part of a new four lane road.
The bridge was a typical bridge of its type: Creosote pilings, caps, stringers and deck. It was in good shape, but in the way. Part of our project was to remove everything to below ground level, including the two small pipes hung on brackets attached to the caps. This meant anything salvageable ended up on a low boy trailer and went to the boss' houses.
We had a 50 ton crawler crane on the bank next to the bridge. We used it to remove, and stack, the heavy timbers, which we pried loose with large pry bars. I was on the prying crew, so as we worked, I'd loop a sling around timbers and guide the load away from our work area. We removed in phases, starting with the deck timbers, then the stringers. Eventually, we'd reach the point there was nothing left but the caps, and the two small pipes that were attached on the far side from the rig.
The stringers were around 3 inches wide and 12 inches tall. The were joined with splices and toe nailed to the caps. It was a rule to lay them on their side after the nails were removed. Although they would stand on their own, a small push would roll them on their side, or off the bridge.
I don't know how I ended up being the person that hooked up the timbers. Maybe it was because I was more nimble/stupid and didn't have any qualms about walking on wobbly, narrow boards. I would rather do that than constantly pull the 60 penny spikes from timbers. It was a welcome break, in my mind.
Right after lunch one day, I eased out on one of the nailed upright stringers, put my hand on the next upright stringer and reached across the far stringer to loop the sling around the stringer I knew was loose because it was laying on its side. That was my mistake, and I should have paid closer attention.
As I leaned towards the outside stringer, the stringer I was using for balance fell over, which launched me over the side. It was quick. Before I could comprehend was was happening, I was falling between the two pipes attached to the caps. For some reason, I had enough presence of mind to extend my arms like a cat, which allowed me to stop my fall. I ended up with one pipe under one arm, and a death grip on the other pipe with my free hand.
It took a few moments for it all to register, and longer for the crew to realize what happened and come help me back on the bridge. It was a typical close call. Remarks were made on my luck and what might have happened, but the only remark I was interested in was who left the board standing with all the spikes pulled.
After it was all sorted out, one of the hands admitted he had pulled all the spikes right before lunch and had forgotten to lay the timber on its side. He forgot, but from that point on, I never forgot to nudge a timber to make sure it wouldn't fall.
I've had a few close calls; I've even been hit with a backhoe bucket. It's always the same: after the adrenalin is gone, the quick reflex muscles start aching and your mind races. If it was really close, the shaking starts after a few minutes. The event is remembered in slow motion, which only makes it more vivid.