Everything We Know About the Shocking Collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge

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Baltimore Bridge Struck by Ship, CollapsesJIM WATSON - Getty Images

This story will be updated as new information becomes available. Last update: 4:00 pm EDT on March 26, 2024

  • An after-midnight tragedy struck Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge after the container ship Dali hit a bridge support column and collapsed the bridge into the Patapsco River.

  • The 1.6-mile-long bridge buckled at the collision site, sending a portion of the steel bridge into the water below.

  • Immediately, a search-and-rescue operation developed to rescue individuals who were on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

Lights flickered on the Dali, a Singapore-flagged container ship, before it lost power and veered off course while navigating the Patapsco River in Baltimore. It struck the 1.6-mile-long Francis Scott Key Bridge at around 1:20 a.m. on Tuesday, collapsing a portion of the steel structure and hurtling vehicles and likely at least eight individuals into the deep-channel water.

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

What Do We Know About Search and Rescue?

Immediately following the incident, the U.S. Coast Guard sent four boats and a helicopter to conduct a search and rescue mission. Local police helicopters assisted in the efforts and local fire departments also responded.

Two people were immediately rescued, one of whom was sent to a local hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center. Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said during a press conference that eight construction workers were on the bridge at the time of the incident, although it is unknown how many people were sent into the 48-degree water by the collision.

Sonar detected five vehicles in the water—three passenger vehicles, a cement truck and a fifth vehicle—and underwater drones have been assisting in the search. The strong tide, darkness, and cold-water temperatures have all been working against rescuers.

“The conditions are difficult,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski told CNN. “We’re talking about a deep channel port. It’s 40, 50 feet of water, strong currents. The weather is windy, the water is cold. And so, we certainly worry about those who are in the water, not to mention the fall from the bridge.”

According to a social media post from Angela Alsobrooks, the county executive for Prince George’s County in Maryland, underwater drones have found “an abundance of twisted metal and debris” in the region surrounding the collapsed bridge. This means it is currently unsafe for divers to enter the wreckage and look for any people still thought to be missing.

What Was Happening on the Bridge at the Time of the Incident?

The early-morning timing meant that a construction crew was working on enhancing the concrete bridge deck of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Authorities believe the vehicles sent into the river were unoccupied at the time of the crash—part of the construction crew operation.

What Is the Francis Scott Key Bridge?

The Francis Scott Key Bridge is a 1.6-mile-long steel bridge opened in 1977—named for the writer of The Star-Spangled Banner, who was said to have sat nearby the site of the bridge when penning the words to the National Anthem during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814—and is part of Interstate 695. A major toll crossing over the Patapsco River, it is the outermost bridge considered part of Baltimore Harbor.

Carrying 12.4 million commercial and passenger vehicles annually, the loss of the bridge will have a significant impact on travel around the Baltimore area. Maryland Governor Wes Moore said the the bridge will be rebuilt, but did not provide a timeline.

What Is the Dali?

The 948-foot container ship Dali was constructed in 2015. Vessel Finder says that the Singapore-flagged ship had arrived from Norfolk, Virginia. MarineTraffic reports that the ship left the Port of Baltimore around 1 a.m. on its way to Sri Lanka.

The Maersk-chartered ship had 22 Indian crew members and two pilots on board, all of whom have been accounted for with no injuries reported.

Maersk, a Danish-based shipping company, told CNN that the Dali was carrying Maersk customer cargo and that no Maersk personnel were on the ship (which is operated by Synergy Marine Group). The Dali can carry 10,000 20-foot shipping containers.

According to records from the Electronic Quality Shipping Information System, Dali has been inspected 27 times since 2015 and was reported for two “deficiencies”—one for hull damage following an incident in 2016 in the Port of Antwerp in Belgium, and one in June 2023 in Chile for an issue with “propulsion and auxiliary machinery—gauges, thermometers, etc.”

Who Was Piloting the Dali When It Struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge?

As per local rules, a local pilot was at the helm of the Dali to navigate it out of Baltimore Harbor at the time of the collision. The goal of the rules was to avoid the exact scenario Baltimore is now suffering.

“Pilots move ships in and out of the Port of Baltimore,” Wiedefeld said during a news conference. The pilots board ships outside of local channels and help navigate them into a port and then bring ships from ports into open water. Laws requiring the use of local pilots were created in Maryland in 1787.

What Is Known about the Moments Before the Collision?

A video of Dali striking the Francis Scott Key Bridge shows that the ship’s lights appeared to flicker on and off in the moments leading to the ship veering off course and into the bridge’s support columns. Officials reported Tuesday morning during a press conference that the ship issued a “mayday” call because it lost power.

Governor Moore says the mayday call allowed authorities to limit traffic on the bridge. “These people are heroes,” Moore said at a news conference on Tuesday, per the Baltimore Sun. “They saved lives last night.”

The U.S. Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash.

What Is the Impact on the Port of Baltimore?

CNN reports that the Port of Baltimore, due to being an East Coast port tucked closer to the Midwest than any other, is the leading port in the United States for autos and light trucks. It also handles a high percentage of farming and construction equipment. It is the ninth biggest U.S. port for handling international cargo.

The impact of the incident isn’t yet known, but (following the search-and-rescue phase) emergency repairs will be necessary to fix the bridge, and could hamper port operations. Ship traffic is currently being diverted to the Port of Virginia.

The reconstruction of this bridge will likely be a “long-term build,” according to Governor Wes Moore of Maryland. President Joe Biden stated today that the bridge was “one of the most important elements” of the economy in the region, and he expects the federal government to pay for the entire cost of the repairs. Biden also stated he would be heading to Baltimore “as quickly as I can.”

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