Baltimore: What to know about the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse that left 6 presumed dead

 Baltimore: What to know about the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse that left 6 presumed dead

In Baltimore, a cargo ship malfunctioned, striking the Francis Scott Key Bridge and triggering a section to plunge into the Patapsco River. 

Transitioning from search to recovery mode, officials faced the grim reality of six missing individuals presumed dead.  

Amidst the chaos, two individuals were swiftly rescued from the river’s grasp; one emerged unscathed while the other required hospitalization, later discharged. Both were identified as members of a construction crew, diligently working to mend the bridge’s potholes when catastrophe struck. 

The somber aftermath left the city in mourning, grappling with the shockwaves of the tragic incident. As authorities pieced together the events leading to the collapse, the resilience of Baltimore’s community stood as a testament to unity in the face of adversity. 

Yet, the echoes of the bridge’s collapse reverberated as a stark reminder of the fragility of infrastructure and the preciousness of every life impacted by the calamity.

Here is what to know:

What happened to the Key Bridge?

In the dead of night, a colossal cargo vessel collided with a support pillar of the expansive Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. The impact shattered a significant section of the bridge, sending it plunging into the Patapsco River below. 

A chilling video captured by CBS Baltimore’s Amy Kawata showcased the bridge’s collapse, sparking alarm across social media platforms. Emergency responders swiftly initiated rescue operations, confirmed by local authorities.

A witness recounted to CBS News Baltimore the deafening roar of the collision, likening it to a seismic event that rattled his home. “It felt like an earthquake,” he said, as his house trembled from the force of the impact. 

The Baltimore Fire Department received the first distress calls around 1:30 a.m., signaling a dire situation. Kevin Cartwright, the department’s communications director, classified the incident as a “mass casualty event.”

In the aftermath, maritime traffic ground to a halt at the port, and both directions of I-695 were shut down for safety reasons.

What caused the crash?

The maritime drama unfolded swiftly as the Singapore-flagged vessel, Dali, departed from the bustling Port of Baltimore, only to encounter a catastrophic loss of propulsion. 

With distress echoing through the radio waves, the crew hastily issued a mayday call, a beacon of warning amidst the chaos, prompting authorities to swiftly intervene and halt traffic from traversing the nearby bridge.

Mayor Brandon Scott of Baltimore praised the decisive action, emphasizing to CBS News the life-saving impact of the mayday call, which facilitated the rapid deployment of emergency responders to the scene. 

Responding to the unfolding crisis, both Mayor Scott and Maryland Governor Wes Moore declared states of emergency, mobilizing a coordinated response effort involving federal, state, and local agencies, including the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Secretary Paul Widefield of the Maryland Department of Transportation provided insights into the FBI’s involvement, assuring the public that while terrorism was being considered as a precautionary measure, there was no credible evidence linking the incident to such motives. 

Special Agent William J. DelBagno echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the ongoing investigation’s focus on uncovering the truth behind the accident.

Governor Moore, addressing the press, reiterated the accident’s preliminary nature, stating that while investigations were underway, there were no indications of terrorism. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas echoed this sentiment on social media, stressing that the tragedy appeared to be an unintended event.

Meanwhile, the NTSB dispatched a specialized team to scrutinize the wreckage and piece together the sequence of events leading to the bridge collapse. Retrieving the data recorder from the stricken vessel, investigators aimed to unravel the circumstances preceding the collision and ascertain whether the Dali had indeed lost power before striking the bridge support.

An unclassified memo from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency shed light on the ship’s distress signal, indicating a loss of propulsion as it exited Baltimore Harbor, forewarning authorities of the impending collision due to the vessel’s compromised maneuverability.

James Mercante, president of the New York Board of Pilot Commissioners, elucidated on the challenges posed by a vessel adrift, highlighting the Dali’s formidable size and momentum as it hurtled towards the bridge at a rapid 8 knots, likening it to a colossal force difficult to arrest.

Secretary Widefield clarified that overnight maintenance work was unrelated to any structural issues affecting the bridge, seeking to dispel speculations regarding its integrity. 

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However, concerns were raised following revelations from the most recent federal inspection report of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, raising questions about the health of one of its reinforced concrete columns. While the bridge had maintained a “fair” rating since 2008, the downgraded health index score of the column prompted further scrutiny, though its connection to the morning’s calamity remained uncertain.

What type of bridge is it?

Constructed between 1972 and 1977, the Francis Scott Key Bridge stands as a testament to engineering prowess with its steel arches, earning it a place among the longest continuous truss bridges globally, per the American Society of Civil Engineers. Originally dubbed the Outer Harbor Crossing, the bridge pays homage to Francis Scott Key, renowned for penning the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Historical accounts suggest the bridge spans within a stone’s throw of where Francis Scott Key witnessed the pivotal bombardment of Fort McHenry on September 12, 1814, an event that inspired his composition of the national anthem.

Stretching 1.6 miles over the Patapsco River, the bridge extends its reach to 10.9 miles when including its connecting approaches. Serving as a crucial daily thoroughfare for countless commuters over the years, its significance transcends mere infrastructure.

The Patapsco River, a 39-mile waterway meandering through central Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay, plays a vital role in Baltimore’s harbor, supporting the city’s primary port. This port serves as a linchpin in both domestic and international shipping networks along the East Coast of the United States.

Where did the cargo vessel come from?

The 948-foot container ship, called Dali, was departing Baltimore and headed toward Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, when it crashed, the MidAtlantic Coast Guard told CBS News. 

Events leading to Key bridge collapse

The vessel is under time charter by Danish shipping giant Maersk and operated by Synergy Marine Group, a charter vessel company, and is owned by Singapore-based Grace Ocean Private. Synergy has activated its incident response team and is cooperating with government agencies. 

Two pilots were steering the ship, with 22 crew members, all Indian nationals. The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, was struck by the cargo ship, causing a partial collapse on March 26, 2024. Maersk expressed horror at the incident and is closely monitoring investigations. 

No Maersk personnel were aboard, but the ship carried cargo for Maersk customers. Synergy’s statement indicated no pollution record, though Baltimore’s fire department reported diesel fuel in the water. The extent of pollution remained unclear, as per CISA’s memo stating no significant reports..

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