Baltimore’s largest bridge collapses after being struck by ship

Emergency crews have rescued two people from the water and are searching for six others. The collision took place as the vessel was leaving the bay towards the Atlantic Ocean

The Francis Scott Key Bridge rests partially collapsed after a container ship ran into it in Baltimore, Maryland.
Miguel Jiménez

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, in the state of Maryland, collapsed at around 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday after a container ship lost power and crashed into one of its pillars. When the infrastructure collapsed, a group of eight construction workers who were performing maintenance work on the bridge fell into the icy waters of the river below, according to officials. Emergency crews have rescued two people and are searching for six others. Authorities initially believed that some cars had been crossing the bridge at the time of the crash and had subsequently fallen into the river. However, according to Maryland Governor Wes Moore, the operators of the ship issued a mayday call moments before the crash, enabling authorities to limit vehicle traffic on the span.

The ship responsible for the accident is the Dali, a Singapore-flagged vessel that is 300 meters long and 48.2 meters wide. According to footage recorded by a Baltimore Harbor webcam, before attempting to pass under the bridge into the bay, the Dali changed course. In the video, the container ship is seen moving forward, before turning to change direction and heading straight for the bridge’s pillar. From the large plume of smoke coming out of its smokestack, it appears that the Dali tried to turn and to avoid hitting the pillar at full speed. Shortly before the collision, the ship’s lights go out.

“It’s crazy. It looks like a movie,” Desmond, a Baltimore citizen, said this morning. There was little else to talk about in the city. As the sun rose, the city woke up to a Dantesque scene. The ship, with its colorful containers, was smashed against the pillar, but there was hardly any trace of the bridge. Helicopters flew overhead and rescue teams were using sonar and infrared to try to locate the missing people.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge is a strategic thoroughfare linking two parts of Baltimore City over the Patapsco River. It typically receives a lot of traffic, but due to the time of the accident, there was a lower volume of vehicles. The number of possible victims is still unknown. This Tuesday morning, temperature around Baltimore Harbor was 30.2ºF and the water temperature was around 47ºF, which could rapidly cause hypothermia in any survivors who are still in the water.

Jill Driver, from Baltimore, watched the collapsed bridge Tuesday morning from Stoney Beach. “It’s heartbreaking, especially for the people who have fallen, but also how it divides us all. I work on the other side of the river, I have family there and now we’re so much further away. It used to take 5 minutes to cross and now it’s going to be 45 minutes, it’s terrible. It was a very important bridge for the community. Besides, now the port is closed and Baltimore lives off the port,” she said.

“At about 1:50 a.m. our first unit arrived on scene and reported a complete collapse of the Key Bridge,” Fire Chief James Wallace said in an early morning press conference. “We were also given information at that time that there were likely multiple people on the bridge at the time of the collapse. And that, as a result, multiple people were in the water. We were able to remove two people from the water. One individual refused service and refused transport, essentially that person was not injured. However, there was another individual who has been transported to a local trauma center that is in very serious condition. At this time, we have multiple air assets from the Maryland State Police, as well as the Baltimore Police Department, as well as multiple marine assets from around the region,” he added.

“This is an unthinkable tragedy,” said Brandon Scott, the mayor of Baltimore, saying the images of the accident “looked like something out of an action movie.” Police Chief Richard Worley said that there is no indication that the ship collision was intentional.

The Dali ship suffered an accident on the Antwerp Bridge a few years ago. According to the ship’s registry available on the specialized website Marine Traffic, the Dali was heading towards the port of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, where it was due to arrive next April 22. The Danish logistics and transport giant Maersk reported that it had contracted the ship to carry out this route.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, also originally known as the Outer Harbor Crossing (until it was renamed in 1977) or simply as the Key Bridge or Beltway Bridge, is a steel arch-shaped continuous through truss bridge that spans the lower Patapsco River and Baltimore’s Outer Harbor and is part of the Maryland Route 695 in Baltimore. The main span of 1,200 feet (366 meters) was the third-longest span of any bridge in the world, and the longest in the Baltimore metropolitan area. The bridge has a total length of 8,636 feet (2,632 meters) and is used by some 11.5 million vehicles annually.

“I’m in shock. It was part of my everyday landscape,” said Keri Johnson, 46. “I [crossed] it from time to time, but it’s a bridge that millions of cars drive over every year, it’s going to have a huge impact on the community and the economy of the city. Luckily, none of my loved ones were on the bridge,” she added.

An outbound cargo ship passes under the Francis Scott Key Bridge in 2018.
An outbound cargo ship passes under the Francis Scott Key Bridge in 2018.Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

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