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What To Know About The Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse In Baltimore That Left At Least 6 Missing

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What To Know About The Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse In Baltimore That Left At Least 6 Missing

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Search and rescue operations continue in Baltimore after a massive cargo ship lost power and struck the city’s iconic Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning, causing part of the bridge to collapse into the Patapsco River. The collapse sent vehicles, and people, into the water along with a stretch of the bridge itself. 

Almost 12 hours after the initial collision, no fatalities had been confirmed. Authorities said two people were recovered from the water, one uninjured and one who was hospitalized, and search teams were looking for at least six people who were unaccounted for. All were believed to be part of a construction crew that was working on the bridge filling potholes at the time of the collapse. 

Here is what we know so far about the collapse.

What happened to the Key Bridge?

An enormous cargo vessel slammed into a support column of the sprawling Francis Scott Key Bridge, which runs for more than 57,000 feet over a stretch of the Patapsco River through central Baltimore, at about 1:30 a.m. ET Tuesday morning. 

The impact caused a huge section of the bridge to collapse into the water. CBS Baltimore’s Amy Kawata shared a harrowing video of the Key Bridge collapsing on social media.

A witness told CBS News Baltimore the sound of the crash was massive and shook his home.

“Earthquake — sounded like a big bash of thunder,” the man said. “And then just like I said it felt like an earthquake, the whole house vibrated. Like my house was falling down.”

The first 911 calls came in at around 1:30 a.m. to report a ship hitting the bridge column, the Baltimore Fire Department told CBS News. Kevin Cartwright, the fire department’s communications director, described it as a “mass casualty event.”

Shipping traffic was suspended at the port after the collision, and I-695 is closed in both directions.

What caused the crash?

The ship involved in the crash, a Singapore-flagged vessel called the Dali, had just left the Port of Baltimore when it reported losing propulsion before crashing into the bridge support. Officials said the crew issued a mayday call, which gave them time to stop traffic from entering the bridge.

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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott told CBS News that the mayday call “saved many lives” and allowed emergency personnel to get to the scene quickly.  

Both Scott and Maryland Governor Wes Moore declared states of emergency in response to the collapse. Federal, state and local officials from agencies including the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board headed to the scene.

Ship lost propulsion before crashing into Baltimore bridge

03:05

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Widefield said at an early briefing that the FBI was on the scene “to see if there was any terrorism connection, which there is not.” He said the FBI’s involvement is a precaution is common in early stages of investigations. 

“There is no specific or credible information to suggest there are ties to terrorism in this incident,” said William J. DelBagno, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore field office, during a press conference later Tuesday morning. 

“We are still investigating what happened, but we are quickly gathering details,” said Gov. Moore at a news conference. “The preliminary investigation points to an accident. We haven’t seen any credible evidence of a terrorist attack.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said earlier on social media that his office was “closely monitoring the tragic situation” and added that there are “no indications that this was an intentional act.” 

Meanwhile, the National Transportation and Safety Board deployed a team to investigate the bridge collapse and said it would share more information about the probe at a briefing later on Tuesday. 

An unclassified memo issued by CISA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said the ship reported losing propulsion as it was leaving Baltimore Harbor and notified the Maryland Department of Transportation that a collision with the bridge was possible as they had lost control of the vessel.

“If it lost steering and power, then basically it’s a dead ship just being carried by the current or its own momentum,” James Mercante, the president of the New York Board of Pilot Commissioners, told CBS News.

The Dali was moving toward the bridge at a speed of about 8 knots, which authorities acknowledged is “very rapid.”

“It would take quite a while — probably the length of five [or] six football fields — to bring that ship to a stop, even after dropping the anchors, because of its power and momentum. This is a behemoth,” Mercante said.

Maritime expert reacts to ship hitting Baltimore bridge, causing collapse

07:12

Widefield said the overnight maintenance work “had nothing at all to do” with any structural issue impacting the bridge itself. 

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The most recent federal inspection report for the Francis Scott Key Bridge, filed in May 2022, gave the bridge span a score of 6 out of 9, which is considered “fair,” CBS News Baltimore reported. The Key Bridge had been in “fair” condition — a passing grade — since 2008, but the latest inspection report did note concerns over one of its reinforced concrete columns. The column’s health index score was downgraded. It is not known whether the column of concern was the same one that was struck on Tuesday morning.

Search and rescue mission

The U.S. Coast Guard was still actively searching for missing people Tuesday morning, said a spokesperson for the agency.

Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace said at an earlier briefing that responders had already pulled two people from the river, but authorities believed there were at least seven more still missing. That number was later amended to six. 

One of the people rescued was not hurt and the other had “very serious” injuries, Wallace said. The individual with injuries was transported to University of Maryland Medical Center for treatment, and officials said that person has so far been unable to speak to investigators.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott on bridge collapse: “Focus is on the search and rescue”

05:35

The search was focused both on and in the water, as well as on the ship deck at the time of the briefing. 

Sonar had detected vehicles beneath the surface of the river, according to the fire chief. Meanwhile, crew members were still on board the vessel.

Officials said everyone known to be missing in the wake of the collapse was part of the construction crew working on the bridge when the ship crashed into it. 

Water in the Patapsco was 48 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Experts warn that submersion in waters at this temperature is extremely dangerous without proper protective gear, even for relatively short periods of time. 

State authorities said that the portion of the river where the bridge collapsed is about 50 feet deep.

What type of bridge is it?

The Francis Scott Key Bridge features steel arches and is one of the longest continuous truss bridges in the world, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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Construction on the Francis Scott Key Bridge began in 1972, and it opened to traffic on March 23, 1977. 

The span over the Patapsco River is 1.6 miles long. Including its connecting approaches, the full bridge project is 10.9 miles in length. For decades it served as a daily commute route for tens of thousands of people. 

The Patapsco is a 39-mile river that weaves through central Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay. Part of the waterway forms the harbor in Baltimore and directly serves the city’s main port, which is a major domestic and international shipping hub that is especially vital to the shipping network along the East Coast of the U.S. 

The bridge, originally known as the Outer Harbor Crossing, is named after Francis Scott Key, the composer of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” 

According to the Maryland Transportation Authority, “Scholars believe the span crosses within 100 yards of the site where Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry on the evening of Sept. 12, 1814,” a battle that inspired him to write what became the national anthem. 

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. 

The vessel is time-chartered by the Danish shipping giant Maersk and operated by Synergy Marine Group, a charter vessel company. Synergy said in a statement that it had activated its own incident response team and was “fully cooperating with Federal and State govenrment agencies under an approved plan.” It said two pilots were steering the Dali, although it could not yet provide their names. Twenty-two crew members on the ship are all Indian nationals, Synergy said. 

Aerial view of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, after collapse
Aerial view of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, after it was struck by a cargo ship and partly collapsed on March 26, 2024.

CBS Baltimore

In a separate statement, Maersk said it “horrified by what has happened in Baltimore” and “closely following the investigations conducted by authorities and Synergy.” No Maersk personnel or crew were on the ship during the collision, the company said, but the Dali was carrying cargo for Maersk customers.

Synergy’s statement suggested there was no record of pollution into the river from the crash, but the fire department in Baltimore said on its scanner that there was a lot of diesel fuel seen in the water around the cargo ship. Exactly how much fuel had leaked into the water was still unclear Tuesday morning, the fire chief said. CISA noted in their memo that the agency had not received any reports of significant pollution into the river.

—Nicole Sganga, Kerry Breen, Brian Dakss and CBS News and CBS News Baltimore staff contributed reporting.





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