MOREHEAD CITY, CARTERET COUNTY -

Two people were on their way back from The Bahamas, when their sailboat crashed into a Carteret County bridge early Wednesday morning, toppling the vessel's mast.

"Everything fell backwards and missed me by about 12 to 14 inches, and I would have been a casualty," said Ralph McBrayer, one of the boaters. "It was so close, it makes you shake in your boots."

The sailboat hit a train drawbridge that's parallel to the Highway 70 bridge connecting Beaufort to Morehead City. The accident happened at about 3:15 a.m., said Capt. Lee Sykes of Tow Boat U.S.

The crash snapped the boat's 60-foot mast and caused about $75,000 in damage, Sykes told NewsChannel 12.  But the bridge itself did not appear to be harmed.

Tow Boat U.S. and the Coast Guard rescued the two boaters, both from Belhaven. Although they were not injured, Sykes said it could have easily been a different story.

"When you have that much rigging coming down, there's nowhere to run," Sykes said. "You're on a boat, so they're very lucky that no one got hit by the mast, or someone got hit by a cable breaking loose from the deck. A bunch of stuff could have happened."

Sykes said a company called PCL Civil Construction, based in Raleigh, is doing maintenance on the drawbridge and is in charge of raising and lowering it. Sykes said a lighting issue may have contributed to the crash. But according to Coast Guard officials, the company is not required to have extra lighting on the bridge. A company official said boaters were notified of the bridge's closure.

Because the bridge is owned by the state, the Wildlife Resources Commission is investigating.