Everything we know about the Baltimore bridge collapse

By John Mercury March 27, 2024

A major bridge collapsed in the US city of Baltimore after it was hit by a 289m-long cargo ship.

Six people remain missing after two others were rescued from the water following the disaster in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Here’s everything we know about the incident so far.

What happened?

A large section of the 1.6 mile-long Francis Scott Key Bridge fell into the water after it was struck by a container ship, known as the Dali, at around 1.30am local time (5.30am UK time).

The vessel struck one of the bridge’s supports, causing the whole structure to collapse, sending the road surface and steel beams crashing into the water.

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The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into what happened, with its chair Jennifer Homendy saying at least six people are still missing.

Eight people were initially unaccounted for – with one described as being in a “very serious condition” in hospital. The other was not injured.

The six missing are believed to be part of a construction crew that was repairing potholes on the bridge, the Maryland Department of Transportation has said.

All 22 crew members on board the ship, including the two pilots, have been accounted for and there were no reports of injuries.

Read more:
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‘Huge implications’ as collapse forces busy port to close

Two possible causes for the catastrophe

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has collapsed after a ship collision. Pic: Raws Alerts
The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has collapsed after a ship collision. Pic: Raws Alerts

What does the footage show?

Dramatic video shows the cargo vessel approaching the bridge before the structure collapses into the water.

Vehicles can be seen falling from the bridge.

An exact number has not been given, but Baltimore fire department’s communications chief Kevin Cartwright said multiple vehicles were on the bridge when it was struck by the ship, one of which was the size of an HGV.

US president Joe Biden said in a news conference hours after the collapse that personnel on the ship were able to alert the Maryland Department of Transportation that they had lost control of their vessel.

Mr Biden added this “undoubtedly saved lives” at it meant local authorities were able to close the bridge before it was struck.

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Footage showing the moment bridge collapsed

What happened in the moments before the crash?

CCTV and marine tracking data shows the container ship lost power for about 60 seconds about four minutes before it hit the bridge. It appeared to adjust its course and start smoking before impact.

According to the timings on the CCTV, the vessel hit the structure at 1.28:44am – with the bridge collapsing four seconds later.

The operators of the Dali cargo ship issued a mayday call that the vessel had lost power moments before the crash, but the ship still headed toward the bridge at “a very, very rapid speed”, Maryland Governor Wes Moore said.

The ship was moving at eight knots, which is roughly 9mph, when it hit the structure, the governor said.

Francis Scott Key Bridge

What do we know about the ship?

The Singapore-flagged container ship, known as Dali, was headed to Colombo in Sri Lanka at the time of the collision.

Synergy Marine Group, the company which manages the ship, said it hit the bridge while under the control of two pilots.

The firm said the exact cause of the incident was yet to be determined.

The Dali was previously involved in a minor incident when it hit a quay at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium in 2016, according to Vessel Finder and maritime accident site Shipwrecklog.

An inspection of the Dali last June at a port in Chile identified a problem with the ship’s “propulsion and auxiliary machinery”, according to Equasis, a shipping information system.

The deficiency involved gauges and thermometers, but the website’s online records did not elaborate.

The most recent inspection listed for the Dali was conducted by the US Coast Guard in New York on 13 September 2023. The “standard examination” did not identify any deficiencies, according to the Equasis data.

What do we know about the bridge itself?

Last June, federal inspectors rated the 47-year-old bridge to be in fair condition. But the structure did not appear to have pier protection to withstand the crash, experts said.

“If a bridge pier without adequate protection is hit by a ship of this size, there is very little that the bridge could do,” according to Virginia Tech engineering professor Roberto Leon.

Built in 1977 and referred to locally as the Key Bridge, it was named after the author of the American national anthem.

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What impact could this collision have?

All ship traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore has been suspended until further notice, though the port remains open to trucks, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said.

Last year, the port handled a record 52.3m tons of foreign cargo worth $80bn (£63bn), according to the state. In addition to cargo, more than 444,000 passengers cruised out of the port in 2023.

The port is a major east coast hub for shipping. The bridge spans the Patapsco River, which massive cargo ships use to reach the Chesapeake Bay and then the Atlantic Ocean.

The Dali was headed from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and flying under a Singapore flag, according to data from Marine Traffic.

President Biden said that he plans to travel to Baltimore “as quickly as I can” and that he expects the federal government to pick up the entire cost of rebuilding the bridge.

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Timeline of Baltimore bridge collapse

Has this ever happened before?

From 1960 to 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge collisions, with a total of 342 people killed, according to a 2018 report from the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.

Eighteen of those collapses happened in the United States.

Among them were a 2002 incident in which a barge struck the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River at Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, sending vehicles plunging into the water. Fourteen people died and 11 were injured.

In 2001, a tugboat and barge struck the Queen Isabella Causeway in Port Isabel, Texas, causing a section of the bridge to tumble 80 feet into the bay below. Eight people were killed.

In 1993, barges being pushed by a towboat in dense fog hit and displaced the Big Bayou Canot railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama.

Minutes later, an Amtrak train with 220 people onboard reached the displaced bridge and derailed, killing 47 people and injuring 103 others.


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