Video: Cargo Ship Collapses Baltimore Bridge, Sending 7 Cars into Water

March 26, 2024
“This is a tragedy that you could never imagine … It looked like something out of an action movie,” said Mayor Brandon Scott after a container ship slammed into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge.

By Michelle Deal-Zimmerman and Hayes Gardner

Source The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — A massive container ship adrift at 9 mph issued a “mayday” early Tuesday as it headed toward the iconic Francis Scott Key Bridge, losing power before colliding with one of the bridge’s support columns. As the vessel struck the bridge in the middle of the night, it caused a din that could be heard ashore and immediately toppled an essential mid-Atlantic thoroughfare into the frigid waters.

Several cars were knocked into the Patapsco River and as of Tuesday around 11 a.m., authorities were searching for six construction workers who had been repairing potholes on the bridge. Two others were rescued — one who was briefly hospitalized and another who declined to go to a hospital. Extensive rescue efforts were ongoing.

Baltimore awoke to the tragedy: States of emergency declared by both the mayor and governor, search-and-rescue efforts for those missing, a bridge disappeared.

Before the collision, the ship’s crew notified authorities that the vessel had lost power. That “mayday” allowed Maryland Transportation Authority Police on the highway above to prevent many cars from driving onto the bridge just before the catastrophe.

“These people are heroes,” Gov. Wes Moore said in a morning news conference. “They saved lives last night.”

Moore added that there was no evidence that the collision was a terrorist attack.

He vowed that the bridge will be rebuilt, though he noted it was too early to estimate when or at what cost.

In a White House address Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden said the federal government would pay for a new bridge.

“I expect the Congress to support my effort. This is going to take some time, but the people of Baltimore can count on us, though, to stick with it every step of the way until the port is reopened and the bridge is rebuilt,” he said.

A few hours after the 1:27 a.m. collision, Baltimore Fire Department Chief James Wallace said authorities had detected the presence of vehicles in the water by using sonar. Water in the area is about 50 feet deep.

Authorities have not determined the precise cause, but U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin told The Baltimore Sun in a phone interview that indications point to the vessel losing power, causing it to lose steering.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, a spokesperson for the board said.

A Coast Guard briefing report obtained by The Sun stated that “a harbor pilot and assistant were onboard and reported power issues, multiple alarms on the bridge, and loss of propulsion prior to the incident.”

“This is a tragedy that you could never imagine … It looked like something out of an action movie,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at a news conference.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed overnight after being struck by a ship in the early morning of Tuesday, March 26.

Video from the incident shows the container ship, billowing smoke, colliding with the bridge support, and much of the structure quickly collapsing. Just before the collision, the ship’s lights appear to turn on and off multiple times.

The Singapore-flagged cargo ship named Dali had been traveling about 8 knots (roughly 9 mph). It was under the operation of a local pilot, as is required by Maryland law, to guide it through the port. The pilot will undergo drug and alcohol testing as part of the investigation.

All vehicle traffic has been rerouted from the 1.6-mile steel bridge, which is part of Interstate 695, a key traffic artery and one of Baltimore’s three toll crossings. The bridge carried more than 12.4 million commercial and passenger vehicles in 2023 — about 34,000 a day — according to a November report.

The Port of Baltimore was still processing trucks inside of its terminals. But vessel traffic into and out of the port was suspended, state Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld said, and a Coast Guard report stated that the “Patapsco River channel is fully blocked.”

Sal Mercogliano, a Campbell University professor and former merchant mariner who hosts a YouTube show on shipping, said it could take “weeks if not months” to clear the channel of bridge debris and open a lane for ships. That is likely to have grave consequences on commerce in the region.

“We know that we have a long road ahead, not just in search-and-rescue, but in the fallout from this,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Dispatchers first reported a possible vehicle in the water at the Key Bridge around 1:40 a.m., according to audio captured by Broadcastify and reviewed by The Sun. About 12 minutes later, a first responder who reached Fort Armistead Park got on the radio, reporting what he saw.

“Be advised, the entire bridge — the entire Key Bridge — is in the harbor,” the person said. “The entire Key Bridge has fallen into the harbor.”

Priscilla Thompson, who lives on the water in Dundalk facing the Key Bridge, was awakened in the middle of the night by the horrible sound of crashing steel.

“I really thought it was an earthquake or something because it shook this house so bad,” she said. “It shook it — it really rattled it — for four or five seconds.”

“And then, it got real quiet,” she said.

Another nearby resident, John Flansburg, woke up to what sounded like a car crash.

“It’s like there was a big accident right outside my door,” he said. “Then I’ve seen all this devastation.”

Jesus Campos is an employee of Brawner Builders, the company with a crew on the bridge when it collapsed. He told reporters in Spanish that police have visited the homes of his fellow crew members who are missing.

Campos used to work on the bridge team, but was recently switched to a different shift. “I could have been there like my coworkers,” he said through a translator.

The Coast Guard has deployed four boats, as well as a helicopter, to aid in the search and rescue mission. Several police helicopters were also circling the area.

Authorities said they are using sonar and underwater drones as part of the rescue efforts. Divers have battled against water temperature, tide and darkness, Wallace said. The National Data Buoy Center reported water temperatures in that area of the Patapsco were about 49 degrees at 4 a.m. The air temperature was 41, and winds were light.

The ship was built in 2015 and had arrived from Norfolk, Virginia, according to Vessel Finder, a ship tracking website. It left the Port of Baltimore around 1 a.m., about a half hour before the collision, according to MarineTraffic, a separate tracking website.

According to a statement from Dali’s owners and managers, all of the ship’s 22 Indian crew members and two pilots who were on board have “been accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries.”

Dali previously collided with a platform, known as a quay, while leaving the Port of Antwerp in Belgium in July 2016, according to VesselFinder. That caused significant damage to its hull, and it was docked for repairs before returning to duty.

Cardin said that the immediate focus is search-and-rescue and added that “there weren’t too many occupied vehicles on the bridge.”

There has been no pollution, the ship’s manager, Synergy Marine Group, said. Wallace said authorities had not confirmed if any fuel spilled into the water but said there had been an odor of “diesel fuel.”

The R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center received one patient from the collapse, according to Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesperson for the University of Maryland Medical Center. Schwartzberg said the patient has been discharged.

The transportation authority noted on social media the interstate 95 and 895 tunnels are alternative ways to travel across the harbor. Vehicles transporting hazardous materials, however, are prohibited in tunnels and “should use the western section of I-695 around tunnels,” the authority posted.

Moore said the bridge was “fully up to code” and a Johns Hopkins professor of structural and civil engineering who reviewed video of the incident said he didn’t see anything that immediately stood out as a “red flag” in regards to the bridge’s structural integrity.

The bridge had two supports holding it up. If you take one away, “it’s not a bridge anymore,” Benjamin W. Schaefer told The Sun.

“We will want to know more; the community will want to know the root of the collapse … but this seems like more of an acute event,” he said.

Mercogliano, the former merchant mariner, said video of the event illustrates that something mechanical went wrong. Without power, the pilot and crew would have been unable to navigate the ship, he said.

“When the power goes out — the worst feeling you can have on a ship as a sailor is everything gets quiet,” Mercogliano told The Sun. “That’s the worst. Because that’s the clear sign that everything is about to go wrong.”

Before ships leave a dock, they undergo a series of tests to ensure they are seaworthy. Whether Dali had issues before it departed will be key to the investigation, he said.

“[If] that ship would have lost power a minute before or a minute after, it wouldn’t have hit the bridge. It just lost power at the exact wrong moment,” Mercogliano said.

The Key Bridge, which opened in March 1977 after five years of construction and cost an estimated $110 million, is named for the Marylander who wrote the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Before daybreak Tuesday, 50-year-old Lupe Lucas and her son stood along the water’s edge in Dundalk, gazing at the area the Key Bridge once spanned. The center of the bridge had disappeared, save for a section collapsed on top of the huge, still ship.

“When the sun rises, and there’s nothing there, that’s going to be heartbreaking for a lot of people,” she said.

Baltimore Sun Media staff Jeff Barker, Christine Condon, Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, Hannah Gaskill, Sam Janesch, Natalie Jones, Lorraine Mirabella and Jonathan M. Pitts contributed to this article.


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