Aerial footage circulated on Russian social media in late May showed that the two opposing sections of the bridge were intact, but the central span had mysteriously disappeared.
The heist took place at a long-dismantled bridge over the Umba river, near the abandoned settlement of Oktyabrskaya, in the Arctic region of Murmansk, which borders with Finland.
Residents realised only days after the theft took place. Photos dating 16 May circulating on Russian social network VKontakte showed that the central span of the bridge had fallen into the water. In aerial photos taken just ten days later, there was no trace of the section or of any debris.
“Natural phenomena could not bring down the bridge,” wrote the VK page that initially posted the pictures. The page owners noted that a lower bridge nearby had remained intact. “Even if you bring in an icebreaker, then it’s strange that the lower road bridge nearby wasn’t knocked over.”
Residents immediately speculated that the bridge had been stolen and submitted a statement to nearby Kirovsk police.
Police initially dismissed claims of theft, alleging that the owners might have dismissed the bridge themselves, but later launched a criminal investigation into a possible theft.
They say the perpetrators might have acted to sell scrap metal, but their identity and the way they operated is still unknown.
“Most likely, metalworkers pulled the structure down into the water, and there they slowly took it apart into scrap pieces,” the VK page speculated.
It noted that it wasn’t the first episode of scrap metal thieves damaging infrastructure in the region, citing attempts to steal transmission towers in the nearby Apatity in summer 2018.
In 2008, Russian police hunted scrap metal thieves who stole an even larger 200-tonne metal bridge in a night-time raid.
The rail bridge over the Umba river had long been dismissed, with tracks lifted a long time ago. Local media Opentown.ru said that when reporters asked who the bridge belonged to, the Murmansk Railway Division said it was “better to turn to historians”.
Police said in their statement that the bridge belonged to a company operating in the area, and estimated material losses at about 600,000 Russian rubles (£7.250).
“Ah, who cares,” commented the VK page, sardonically. “This isn't Germany, and restoring order to the vandalised landscape is not high on the agenda.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies