Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore Collapses after Ship Strike; Six Missing

March 26, 2024
Divers are searching for six construction workers missing after the bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning.

Editor's Note -- Six construction workers are missing after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday. Divers joined the rescue operation just after daybreak. The crew of the ship that struck the bride managed to send a 'Mayday' signal that stopped more traffic from coming onto the bridge. Maryland Governor Wes Moore said that saved lives. Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said one person was transported to shock trauma early in the incident while another refused to be transported. In the darkness, helicopter crews determined there were vehicles underwater. The temperature of the Patapsco River was about 44 degrees. 

Hayes Gardner and Christine Condon

The Baltimore Sun


BALTIMORE — Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday after a container ship struck a support column, sending at least seven cars into the Patapsco River, launching a search-and-rescue operation and prompting Gov. Wes Moore to declare a state of emergency.

Two construction workers who were repairing potholes on the bridge at the time — one of whom was hospitalized — were rescued and, as of 10 a.m., there were six other workers unaccounted for, state Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld said. Extensive rescue efforts are ongoing.

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 news conference Tuesday morning. “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, although he note that it was too early to estimate when or at what cost.

In an earlier news conference, a few hours after the 1:20 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 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.

“What’s been indicated is the vessel lost power, and when you lose power you lose steering,” Cardin said. “But they’re doing a full investigation.”

U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said on social media that initial reports from the U.S. Coast Guard indicate a harbor pilot aboard reported “power issues, multiple alarms on the bridge, and a loss of propulsion prior to the incident.”

It’s “too early to know all the facts,” U.S. Sen Chris Van Hollen told The Sun, but added: “There is certainly a good chance the ship lost power and drifted into the bridge.”

“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.

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

The ship, a 948-foot, Singapore-flagged cargo ship named Dali, had been traveling about 8 knots (about 9 mph). It was under the operation of a pilot, as is required by Maryland law, to guide it through the port.

All vehicle traffic has been rerouted from the 1.6-mile steel bridge, which is part of Interstate 695, a major thoroughfare and one of Baltimore’s three toll crossings. The bridge carried more than 12.4 million commercial and passenger vehicles in 2023 — roughly 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 is suspended, Wiedefeld said. 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.

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.”

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., 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.”

Cardin said that the immediate focus is search and rescue and added that “there weren’t too many occupied vehicles on the bridge.” He said officials were “trying to figure out how to get the port open.”

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 spokesman for the University of Maryland Medical Center. Schwartzberg said the patient has been discharged.

On X, the site formerly known as Twitter, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said he’d been in contact with Moore and Scott and had offered the federal agency’s “support following the vessel strike and collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge.”

The Maryland Department of Emergency Management has staff on site and is coordinating with the governor’s office, Maryland State Police and the transportation authority. Agency spokesperson Travis Brown said that the department has raised its emergency operation center status to “advanced” and the state joint operations center is “in full swing.”

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 way, “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.

Sal Mercogliano, a Campbell University professor and former merchant mariner who hosts a YouTube show on shipping, said in a video Tuesday that footage of the incident appears to show an “engine problem.”

“When you lose power on a ship, it is the worst feeling the world. Everything goes quiet, goes dark,” he 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 large 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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