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6 presumed dead after ship crash and bridge collapse in Baltimore

Officials announced search and rescue efforts would transition to search and recovery of the deceased. Searches were suspended overnight on Tueday.
Posted at 6:55 AM, Mar 26, 2024

At least six people are presumed to be dead after a cargo ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday, causing it to collapse. 

Jeffrey Pritzker, executive vice president of Brawner Builders, said Tuesday a crew of construction workers were working in the middle span of the bridge when it collapsed. At least six are thought to be dead because of how deep the water is and because of how long it's been since the collapse.

Police said two members of the construction crew had been rescued as of 6:30 a.m. ET. One refused treatment and was unharmed. Another was in serious condition and transported to a local trauma center.  

Col. Roland L. Butler Jr., superintendent for Maryland State Police, said Tuesday evening authorities had switched from search and rescue of living victims to search and recovery of the deceased. Search operations were suspended overnight on Tuesday to resume on Wednesday morning.

The ship's collision into one of the supports sent the bridge plummeting into the water below within seconds. 

Baltimore police said they were notified of the bridge collapse at approximately 1:40 a.m. Tuesday. They received emergency calls of  "multiple people in the water.” During an interview with Scripps News, Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said there were dive teams from multiple agencies with approximately 50 divers searching the river on Tuesday.

Sonar technology was able to detect what officials believe to be three passenger vehicles and a cement truck in the water. A fifth vehicle was noted, but it is unclear what type it is at this time, Wallace said. 

It's unclear how many vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. The exact number of victims is also still unknown.

"On scene, we currently have three small boats," said Lt. Cmdr. Erin Palmer, Coast Guard Sector Maryland, in a morning press conference. "We also have Coast Guard cutter Mako, an 87-foot patrol boat. We have a helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City and we're working with numerous federal, state and local partners on scene on these search and rescue efforts."

"This is a place that is a normal commute route for over 30,000 Marylanders every single day. And so to hear the words that the key bridge has collapsed, it's shocking and heartbreaking," said Moore during the late morning press conference. 

Bill DelBagno, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore Field Office, said there is no credible information that the bridge collapse is tied to terrorism. 

Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said all vessel traffic into and out of the port would be suspended until further notice, though the facility was still open to trucks.

Moore and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said they are in close communication with other officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who told officials he would work to release emergency funds as soon as possible to help with the catastrophe. 

Later Tuesday afternoon, Buttigieg joined state and local officials at a press conference to reiterate the federal government's support. 

"We are all putting our arms around the community of Baltimore," Buttigieg said. 

Buttigieg added that it is too soon to know the true scale of the impact the bridge collapse and subsequent channel closure will have on commerce. 

In a message posted to X Tuesday evening, President Joe Biden said the federal government would cover the costs of rebuilding and repairs.

"It's my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost for reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort," President Biden said. "This is going to take some time. The people of Baltimore can count on us though to stick with them at every step of the way until the port is reopened and the bridge is rebuilt."

According to Marine Traffic, the cargo vessel that struck the bridge was called the Dali, sailing under a Singapore flag. It was headed from Baltimore to Sri Lanka and was chartered by shipping giant Maersk and operated by the company Synergy Group. 

"We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected," said a spokesperson for Maersk in a statement. There were no Maersk crew members or personnel onboard the vessel, the spokesperson said. 

Officials said the container ship, which is about 984 feet long and 157 feet wide, lost power before hitting the bridge. The 1.6-mile long bridge spans the Patapsco River as part of Interstate 695, which is part of the beltway that surrounds downtown Baltimore and connects to major routes like Interstate 95. 

Scripps News

The Army Corps of Engineers is at the scene of the collapse to help clear the channel as soon as possible so that the Port of Baltimore can reopen its operations.  

President Biden noted the port, where the ship was departing from, is one of the busiest shipping hubs in the U.S. and handled a record amount of cargo last year. 

In a statement to Scripps News Norfolk, the Port of Virginia said it was ready to help take on extra shipping traffic that would have gone through Baltimore.

"Our operating team is already working with ocean carriers whose vessels were due to call Baltimore and offering the capability of our port to discharge cargoes as requested," the port said. "The Port of Virginia has a significant amount of experience in handling surges of import and export cargo and is ready to provide whatever assistance we can to the team at the Port of Baltimore."

On Tuesday afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that it would spearhead the investigation. The agency's chair, Jennifer Homendy, said that currently the NTSB cannot confirm if the bridge has previously been flagged for any safety or security issues until a comprehensive investigation is conducted, as well as reviewing prior safety inspections of the vessel to flag any issues it may have had prior to the incident.

How the Baltimore bridge collapse impacts commerce, jobs and cruises
Aerial view of Seagirt Marine Terminal, Port of Baltimore in 2019.

How the Baltimore bridge collapse impacts commerce, jobs and cruises

The Maryland Port Administration said the Port of Baltimore generates around 15,300 direct jobs, with nearly 140,000 jobs linked to its operations.