What we know about Baltimore Key Bridge collapse as six people still missing

What we know about Baltimore Key Bridge collapse as six people still missing

Federal investigators put together a timeline of the harrowing moments just before the Dali container ship collided with Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to dramatically collapse and propelling members of a construction crew into the cold water below.

The cause of the early-morning collision is still unknown — but a recently recovered black box has provided insights into the final moments before the bridge’s demise. The newly constructed timeline also includes the mayday call, prompting officials to stop traffic on the bridge. The Maryland governor hailed the warning call, saying it saved lives.

Tragically, some people could not be saved. Eight members of a construction crew who were refilling potholes fell into the Patapsco River when the Dali slammed into the bridge. While two survivors were pulled from the river shortly after the disaster struck on Tuesday, 26 March, six men were still missing.

After nearly a 17-hour search for the missing men, the Coast Guard announced it was suspending search operations, presuming that the six unaccounted-for workers were dead at that point.

The search team found two bodies in a submerged red pickup truck on the morning of 27 March. So far, four of the six missing men being publicly identified.

Here’s what we know about the Baltimore bridge collapse:

The collision

At around 1.30am ET local time, the Singapore-flagged vessel Dali struck a column on the Francis Scott Key Bridge, leading multiple parts of the 1.6 mile-long bridge to tumble into the water.

Just moments before the collision, the ship’s crew issued a mayday call. Maryland Gov Wes Moore added that the call saved lives, giving time for authorities to stop cars from continuing on the bridge.

The crew warned the Maryland Department of Transportation that a collision with the bridge “was possible,” the report said. “The vessel struck the bridge causing a complete collapse.”

It’s still unclear what caused the accident. But the ship was just 30 minutes into its 27-day journey to Sri Lanka.

Marcel Muise, chief investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said data from the shipping container’s voyage date recorder, sometimes referred to as a “black box”, was still being analysed.

Mr Muise said that around 1.27am on Tuesday morning, one of the two pilots of the Dali had made radio contact regarding a “blackout” and ordered for the port anchor to be dropped as well as issuing additional steering commands.

Several seconds later the pilot issued another radio call over the radio reporting that the Dali had “lost all power and was approaching the bridge,” Mr Muise said.

Transportation authorities say the water under the bridge is around 50 feet deep.

At least six people are still missing as the search continues

Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the Baltimore Fire Department, told The Associated Press that it appeared there are “some cargo or retainers hanging from the bridge”, creating unsafe and unstable conditions, and that emergency responders were having to operate cautiously.

As the investigation continues, officials said that there was “no indication of terrorism” involved in the incident, and that the FBI and other state and federal agencies were working to get information.

Chief James Wallace, of the Baltimore City Fire Department, also said there was no indication the crash was intentional.

Jennifer Homendy, Chair of the NTSB, said that over 750 tonnes of hazardous materials had been onboard the Dali container ship when the crash occurred.

An NTSB hazmat investigator was able to identify 56 containers of hazardous materials, a total of 764 tonnes of hazardous materials, Ms Homendy told a press conference on Wednesday. The materials were “mostly corrosives, flammables, and some miscellaneous hazardous materials”, Ms Homendy told reporters.

Some of the hazmat containers were breached, though state authorities have been made aware.

People feared to be in the water

Eight people were initially believed to be in the water after the container ship collided with the bridge — six of whom are still missing — although authorities said that number could change as the rescue efforts continue.

Officials have confirmed that they have pulled two survivors from the water. One has been taken to a trauma unit and is in serious condition, while the other was uninjured.

On Tuesday, Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the fire department, said the city was dealing with a “developing mass casualty incident”.

A multi-agency rescue ensued, in search of the six missing people, with dive team members going into the river to try and locate them.

The Coast Guard also deployed small boats and helicopters to help in the search.

The collapse has been described as ‘catastrophic’

After almost a full day of searching for the six, the Coast Guard announced at 7.30pm on Tuesday evening that the search was suspended and would transform into a recovery effort the next morning.

“I’d like to announce tonight that based on the length of time that we’ve gone in this search, the extensive search efforts we’ve put into it, the water temperature, that at this point we do not believe that we’re going to find any of these individuals still alive,” said Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath.

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre gave condolences on behalf of the White House at a Wednesday press conference: “Our hearts go out to the families of the six individuals still missing.”

Officials had said earlier on Tuesday that the construction crew — employed by Brawner Builders — was working on refilling potholes.

Brawner Builders employee Jesus Campos told The Baltimore Banner that the still unaccounted for individuals are all men in their 30s and 40s — who have children and spouses.

“They are all hard-working, humble men,” Mr Campos told the outlet.

Two of the men — Miguel Luna and Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval — were named by family members as being among the workers on the bridge who went missing after the structure collapsed into the river below.

Col Roland Butler Jr of Maryland State Police said at a Wednesday evening press conference that agencies made a “tragic finding” just before 10am that morning: a red pickup truck submerged in 20 feet of water with two victims trapped inside.

They were identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26.

Mr Butler didn’t specify where the two were from, but said that those presumed deceased are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Mr Butler said on Wednesday evening that agencies were transitioning from a “recovery mode” to “salvage recovery operation.”

‘An unthinkable tragedy’

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse is an “unthinkable tragedy,” Baltimore city mayor Brandon Scott said.

“We have to be thinking about the families and people impacted, folks who we have to try to find. This is what our focus should be on right now, we’re going to continue to work in partnership with every part of government to do everything we can to get us through the other side of this tragedy,” he said.

Multiple agencies have been involved in the search for the people still believed to be missing in the water.

It is unclear what caused the collapse

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said on X that he had spoken with Mayor Scott and Maryland Governor Wes Moore to offer the Department of Transportation’s support.

Mr Buttigieg said at a press conference that Tuesday was “an excruciating day for several families” who are waiting to hear news about their loved ones who may have been on the bridge during the collision. He added, “We should also recognize that this is an excruciating day for several families who went to bed last night having it be a normal night and woke up today to news that no one wants to receive.”

Not long after, a state of emergency was declared by Governor Moore early on Tuesday morning. The White House said it was “closely monitoring” the situation calling it a “horrific incident.”

“Senior White House officials are in touch with the governor and mayor to offer any federal assistance they need. There is no indication of any nefarious intent,” a statement said.

How did the crash occur?

The Maryland Transportation Authority said that it is too early in the investigation to understand the full picture of what caused the collapse.

“It’s what we call a continuous structure every little piece is connected to another – and unfortunately it’s a catastrophic collapse,” they said.

Reports suggest that the Dali had “lost propulsion” as it left the port embarking on its journey, with crew notifying officials that they had lost control of the vessel, ABC reported, citing an unclassified intelligence report.

“The vessel notified MD Department of Transportation (MDOT) that they had lost control of the vessel and an collision with the bridge was possible,” ABC said, quoting the report by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“The vessel struck the bridge causing a complete collapse.”

The 300-metre-long vessel was embarking on a journey to Sri Lanka and was only 30 minutes in when it collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge

However, some have also questioned whether the structural integrity of the bridge itself was strong enough.

Julian Carter, a structural and civil engineering expert, earlier told Sky News that the structures of the bridge were “very weak” at certain points.

Fire officials said earlier that they do not have any information as to whether there was a problem with the 300-metre-long ship, and have not spoken to the pilot of the vessel yet.

Chief Wallace added that he could not confirm if there had been a fuel leakage from the cargo ship.

“We hope as the sun comes up, we will get a much better picture if we do have a fuel spill and what the impact has been so far,” he said.

Gov Moore said on Wednesday that it’s still unclear what caused the ship’s power to go out. “There needs to be accountability to make sure these things do not happen again and that we have a system in place to make sure they don’t,” he said at a press conference.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy told CBS News on Wednesday that the agency has the voyage data recorder, or “black box,” which can provide “a timeline” of the lead-up to the crash as early as later today. The instrument can also give insights into positioning of the vessel and power loss, she said.

The container vessel Dali

All members of the crew were accounted for after the crash.

The Dali’s 22-member crew and its two pilots were all safe, Synergy Marine Group said in a statement. One crew member sustained “minor” injuries and has since been treated and discharged from the hospital. The injured crew member returned to the vessel on 27 March, he company said.

Interviews conducted by the NTSB with the two pilots of the Dali container ship are scheduled for Thursday.

Jennifer Homendy, NTSB chair, said that an interview with the ship’s captain had taken place on Wednesday, along with the mate, chief engineer and one of the other engineers. She added that container ship currently has power, but was stationary.

“They are not sitting in the dark, but it cannot move,” she told a Wednesday press conference.

Reports claim that the crew ‘lost propulsion’ of the Dali after it left the Baltimore Port

The boat’s length overall (LOA) is 299.92 metres and width is 48.2 metres.

The Dali had just set sail and had only travelled just over four miles from the Seagirt Marine Terminal in the Port of Baltimore before it collided into the west side of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, according to VesselFinder.

It was about to embark on a 27-day journey to Colombo, Sri Lanka, which is roughly 10,220 miles, although it only managed to complete a fraction of its journey – about 30 minutes – before it crashed.

While the vessel “had a fairly good safety record,” Mr Buttigieg noted at a Wednesday press conference, the Dali had reportedly been involved in another “incident” back in 2016, port authorities told CNN.

The same ship that struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge was also involved in an incident at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium, the outlet reported.

According to Vessel Finder, the Dali reportedly collided with the side of the stone wall quay as it was leaving the port, and consequently damaged the stern and transom of the vessel.

The incident was reportedly blamed on a mistake by the ship’s master and pilot onboard and there were no injuries.

Separately, the Martime and Port Authority of Singapore said that the Dali had “passed previous foreign port state inspections,” according to a 27 March statement.

While the vessel passed two separate foreign port inspections in June and September 2023, the agency noted that during the June, the ship suffered from a “a faulty monitor gauge for fuel pressure,” which was “rectified before the vessel departed the port.”

In June 2023, a port in Chile reported an issue with the fuel heater’s pressure gauges before it was fixed before departing, the Associated Press reported.

The Independent has asked the Martime and Port Authority of Singapore to clarify at which foreign ports the inspections took place.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge

Before the Francis Scott Key Bridge catastrophically plummeted into the Patapsco River, the structure had stood for 47 years in its completion as the final link in the I-695 (the Baltimore Beltway).

The bridge got its name from Francis Scott Key, the man who penned the US national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner, who also happens to be a distant cousin and the namesake of the writer F Scott Fitzgerald.

The Maryland native was thought to be close to where the bridge was eventually erected when he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, inspiring him to write the words to the anthem, the Maryland Transportation Authority wrote on its website.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge was completed in 1977 and carried 11.3 million vehicles a year

It took five years to complete the bridge, between 1972 and 1977 and carried some 11.3 million vehicles a year before it fell into the river on Tuesday.

The four-lane steel bridge spanned 1.6 miles across the river and had 185 feet of vertical clearance.

The bridge leads up to the Port of Baltimore, which is the US’s busiest port for car shipments, according to data from the Maryland Port Administration, Reuters reports, as well as being the largest US port by volume for handling heavy farm and construction machinery.

NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said that bridge was “fracture critical” but had been in “satisfactory condition” prior to the crash on Tuesday morning.

The last inspection of the bridge occurred in May 2023. The structure receives over 30,700 vehicles crossing it each day, Ms Homendy said.

“The bridge is fracture critical. What that means is if a member fails, that would likely cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse,” Ms Homendy told a press conference on Wednesday.

“The preferred method for building bridges today is that there is redundancy built in built in whether that’s transmitting loads to another member or some sort of structural redundancy. This bridge did not have redundancy.”

There are 17,468 “fracture critical” bridges in the United States out of around 615,000 bridges total, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA).

“This bridge was in satisfactory condition,” Ms Homendy added. “The last fractional fracture critical inspection was in May 2023. We have not been able to go through that inspection and all the documents that but that will occur after we leave the on-scene portion [of the investigation].”

Earlier on Wednesday US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that while the bridge took five years to build, “that does not necessarily mean it will take five years to replace.”

Implications on global trade

In a speech on Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden vowed to use federal funds to rebuild the bridge and promised to “move heaven and earth” to reopen the bridge “as soon as humanly possible”, emphasising the critical role that the birdge and the port play for daily travel, trade and the economy.

Mr Buttigieg reiterated this sentiment at a press conference on Wednesday, saying Mr Biden has urged that the federal government “to tear down any barriers, bureaucratic as well as financial that could affect the timeline of this project.”

Mr Biden said that more than 30,000 vehicles crosses every day. He called it “one of the most important elements” of the economy and quality of life in the Northeast corridor. Not to mention that 850,000 vehicles go through the port every year.

The port is shut down indefinitely after the bridge’s catastrophic collapse.

Experts have warned that there could be long-term impacts on global trade and insurance premiums as a result of the bridge’s collapse.

Andrew Tettenborn, Professor of Commercial Law at Swansea University, said there could be a short-term impact on global trade in the coal industry, but added that the “US are good at diverting” coal exports. “A lot of the trade will be picked up elsewhere,” he said.

When asked about the indefinite blocking of the port, he said: “Even if it is blocked for a time, I wouldn’t think it would have an enormous effect.”

But the port and its affiliated workers are already feeling the effects.

Roughly a dozen cargo ships were believed to be stuck inside the port and another 30 small small cargo ships, tug boats and pleasure craft were also in the port, while about 40 heading for Baltimore were forced to divert

The president added that 15,000 jobs depend on that port, on top of the “140,000 jobs linked to port activities”, Maryland’s governor noted last month.

A day after the incident, Mr Buttigieg said a “main area of concern” was the livelihoods of port workers, estimating that thousands of jobs could be affected by the incident.

Gov Moore also noted that last year the port handled a record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo — worth more than $80bn in value. It ranked ninth in the nation’s ports in foreign cargo handled, and first for volume of autos and light trucks, the statement said.

The Port of Baltimore ranked as the 17th top US ports in 2023, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

As Mr Biden alluded, the port is a hub for travel. The governor wrote that over 444,000 individuals cruised out of the Port of Baltimore in 2023 alone.

“There is no question that this will be a major and protracted impact to supply chains,” the transportation secretary said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The port has already taken a hit since the incident.

Maersk, which chartered the Dali vessel, said it would be “omitting Baltimore on all our services for the foreseeable future, until it is deemed safe for passage through this area,” in a Tuesday morning statement.

Gov Moore emphasised the impact of the incident during a Wednesday evening press conference: “The collapse of the Key bridge is not just a Maryland crisis. The collapse of the Key bridge is a global crisis. The national economy and the global economy depends on the Port of Baltimore.”

Source: independent.co.uk