Baltimore Key Bridge collapse: All we know about the ship crash and victims

Francis Scott Key Bridge collapses after a container ship smashes into the four-lane span, plunging cars into the river.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, has collapsed after a cargo ship hit one of its support columns.

Officials say at least six people from a construction crew remain missing and are presumed dead.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened in Baltimore and when?

  • About 1:27am (05:27 GMT) on Tuesday, a container ship collided with one of the pillars supporting the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the city on the East Coast of the United States.
  • Cars using the bridge fell into the Patapsco River, while six workers were missing and presumed dead.
  • The ship, named the Dali, is 300 metres (984 feet) long. The Singapore-registered vessel left Baltimore at 1am (05:00GMT) and was heading for Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was supposed to arrive at its destination on April 22.
  • Local pilots, not the crew, were guiding the ship at the time of the accident, according to Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld. These pilots are trained to avoid accidents like the one on Tuesday.
  • Authorities said all 22 crew members on the Dali and the two pilots have been accounted for and there were no reports of injuries.

Why did the ship lose control?

  • According to a report by ABC News, the ship “lost propulsion” as it was leaving port, and its crew notified Maryland officials they had lost control of the vessel.
  • Clay Diamond, the executive director and general counsel of the American Pilots’ Association, said the ship underwent a “complete blackout” at approximately 1:20am (05:20 GMT).
  • “Just minutes before the bridge, there was a total blackout on the ship, meaning that the ship lost engine power and electrical power, it was a complete blackout,” Diamond told CNN.
  • The vessel was moving at a standard speed of 8 knots (14.8 km/h), typical for the area. Despite the ship not recovering its main power source, Diamond mentioned that a diesel backup generator activated, thereby reinstating the electrical systems.
  • The pilot immediately ordered the rudder hard to port to keep the ship from turning right and ordered the port anchor be dropped, Diamond said. The pilot also contacted a dispatch office to get the bridge shut down.
  • Diamond said widely circulated images show the ship’s lights turning off and then back on, leading to questions about whether the vessel had regained power. But, he said, the emergency generators that kicked in turned the lights back on but not the ship’s propulsion.
  • One of the pilots did “everything that he could have done”, Diamond said according to a report by the New York Post.

Where did it happen?

  • The 2.6km (1.6-mile), four-lane bridge — named after the man who wrote the words of The Star-Spangled Banner, the US national anthem — spans the Patapsco River just southeast of central Baltimore.
  • It is a key part of the road network around Baltimore, an industrial city northeast of the US capital, Washington, DC. The bridge carried more than 12 million commercial and passenger vehicles in 2023.
  • Baltimore’s port handles farm and construction machinery, sugar, gypsum and coal as well as imports and exports for major automakers, including Nissan, Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover.

What do we know about the people on the bridge?

  • According to authorities, eight people were on the bridge at the time of the collision, and six remain unaccounted for. They were part of a construction crew filling potholes on the bridge.
  • From those six, two of them were from Guatemala, according to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some of the people missing were also from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.
  • Among the missing individuals were a 26-year-old and another aged 35, who were both workers. The Guatemalan ministry said they were members of a team assigned to “repairing the asphalt on the bridge at the time of the accident.”
  • In the operation, at least two people were rescued – one was taken to hospital and was later discharged, officials said.
  • A fellow construction company employee says he was told his missing co-workers were on a break and some were sitting in their trucks when the bridge collapsed.
  • Maryland Governor Wes Moore said he’s spent time with the families of victims. “The strength of these families is absolutely remarkable,” he added.

What happens next?

  • President Joe Biden, speaking from the White House, promised the nation a large federal response to the collapse, emphasising that there was no evidence suggesting it was a deliberate act.
  • In the port, the traffic was suspended until further notice, according to Maryland transport authorities.
  • The collapse is almost sure to create a logistical nightmare for months, if not years, along the East Coast, shutting down ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore and snarling cargo and commuter traffic.
  • “Losing this bridge will devastate the entire area, as well as the entire East Coast,” state Senator Johnny Ray Salling said.
  • The Port of Baltimore is also the ninth-busiest major US port in terms of both foreign cargo handled and foreign cargo value, and is directly responsible for more than 15,000 jobs while supporting almost 140,000 more.
  • In the evening of Tuesday, Colonel Roland Butler, superintendent for Maryland State Police, announced that the search and rescue mission was transitioning to one of search and recovery.
  • Starting at 6am (10:00 GMT) on Wednesday, “we’re hoping to put divers in the water and begin a more detailed search to do our very best to recover those six missing people”, Butler added.
A container ship rests against wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge as night falls on Tuesday
A container ship rests against the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge as night falls on Tuesday [Matt Rourke/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies