Search For 6 Missing Construction Workers Continues After Baltimore Key Bridge Collapse

WTOP NEWS: More than 12 hours after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning, six members of a road crew who were on the Baltimore bridge at the time it was rammed by a cargo ship remain missing, and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore says the scene remains an active “search and rescue” operation.

A senior executive at the company that employed the construction workers, Brawner Builders, said Tuesday afternoon they were presumed dead, given the water’s depth and the length of time since the crash.

During an afternoon news conference, the governor did not address the remarks from the company, insisting that every possible resource is being deployed to aid in the search.

“This is still very much an active search and rescue mission and there is not a single resource that we will hold off on deploying,” Moore said. “I have already authorized the deployment of everything from air, land and sea resources to make sure that this search and rescue operation is carried out to its fullest intent.”

Two other workers were rescued. Their crew was repairing potholes on the bridge when the container ship slammed into the bridge, said Paul Wiedefeld, the state’s transportation secretary.

At an address from the White House, President Joe Biden said the federal government is working with local authorities to help with the search and rescue efforts and pledged the federal government would pay for the cost of rebuilding.

“I know every minute in that circumstance feels like a lifetime,” Biden said in reference to the families awaiting news about their missing loved ones. “It’s just terrible.”

Moments before the crash: Mayday from ship

Reports came in around 1:40 a.m. Tuesday that a large vessel crashed into a column in the central part of the bridge that carries north and southbound lanes of Interstate 695.

The ship caught on fire, with dark smoke billowing out of the vessel, before it crashed into the support structure.

Segments of the bridge rapidly snapped and plummeted, causing multiple vehicles to fall below. Around 30 seconds after the ship’s initial impact, most of the bridge was in the water, with jagged pieces of its wreckage sticking above the surface.

It’s unclear what caused the ship to crash. The ship was traveling toward the bridge at 8 knots (or about 9 mph), which Moore called a “very rapid speed.” The ship’s crew notified authorities of a power issue through a mayday call before it struck the bridge.

Because of the warning, Moore said port authority workers were able to stop traffic and prevent more vehicles from traveling onto the bridge.

“These people are heroes,” Moore said. “They saved lives last night.”

Biden later echoed Moore, saying their actions “undoubtedly saved lives.”

The governor and other officials couldn’t offer details about how many vehicles might have been on the bridge at the time it collapsed.

Search for those who fell into the water

Two people were rescued after the collapse, including at least one person who went into the water and was seriously injured.

Multiple agencies were conducting search and rescue efforts by air and water, which lasted throughout the day

Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said sonar had detected vehicles in the water — which is about 50 feet deep — but the exact number could not be confirmed.

The water temperature was about 47 degrees before dawn Tuesday, according to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“This is a dire emergency,” Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the Baltimore Fire Department, told The Associated Press. “Our focus right now is trying to rescue and recover these people.”

Cartwright called the collapse a “developing mass casualty event.”

Investigation begins

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the collapse, with the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said during a news conference.

“The preliminary investigation points to an accident,” Moore said.

Homendy said the NTSB has a team of 24 on the scene of the collapse, with more arriving. For now, Homendy said they’re “standing back” from the wreckage to give Coast Guard members room for their search and rescue operation. But she said there is plenty of work to be done away from the site of the collapse.

“What they’re going to look at and begin to collect is information on vessel operations, safety history, safety record, they’ll look at the owner. They’ll look at the operator and they’ll look at the operations today. They will also look at company policy, any sort of safety management system.”

The NTSB’s highway safety team, which includes structural engineers and bridge experts, is also on site.

NTSB investigators have not yet boarded the ship as of Tuesday afternoon, but Homendy said once they do gain access to recorders onboard, the NTSB will have more information on the timeline of events leading up to the collapse.

Pledge to rebuild

Opened in 1977, the bridge is named for the writer of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“This is one of the cathedrals of American infrastructure,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “It has been part of the skyline of this region for longer than many of us have been alive. So the path to normalcy will not be easy. It will not be quick. It will not be inexpensive. But we will rebuild together.”

Biden said the federal government should pay for rebuilding the bridge.

“It’s my intention that federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge and I expect the Congress to support my effort,” Biden said.

When asked about whether the company that owns the ship should be billed for the cost of rebuilding, Biden said “that could be, but we’re not going to wait for it.”

Baltimore’s Key Bridge spans the Patapsco River, a vital artery that, along with the Port of Baltimore, is a hub for shipping on the East Coast.

“I’m directing my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” Biden said at a news conference.

Moore issued an emergency declaration, stating in a post on Facebook that his office is working with the Biden Administration to quickly deploy federal resources. Baltimore’s Mayor Brandon Scott also declared a state of emergency.

“Our administration is working closely with leaders from all levels of government and society to respond to this crisis, and not just by addressing the immediate aftermath, but also by building a state that is more resilient, and a state that’s more safe,” Moore said at a news conference.

It doesn’t appear there were any structural issues with the bridge before the ship struck it and it collapsed — Moore said it was fully up to code.

“This is a place that is a normal commute route for over 30,000 Marylanders every single day,” Moore said. “So to hear the words that ‘the Key Bridge has collapsed,’ it’s shocking and heartbreaking.”

The FBI’s Baltimore office said in a social media post the investigation into the collapse is ongoing, but there is “no specific and credible information to suggest any ties to terrorism at this time.”

The FBI and Coast Guard were communicating with the crew of the vessel, Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said at a news conference.

What we know about the ship

Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew West from the Coast Guard in Baltimore told WTOP that a container ship flying under a Singapore flag crashed into the bridge. The vessel, called “Dali,” was headed through Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, as its final destination, according to Marine Traffic and Vessel Finder maps and data.

The ship, which is 985 feet long and weighs 95,000 gross tons, had 22 crew members onboard at the time of the crash, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, which said in a news release it’s investigating the incident and is cooperating with the U.S.

Synergy Marine Group — which owns and manages the ship — confirmed the vessel hit a pillar of the bridge at about 1:30 a.m. while two pilots were in control. It said all crew members, including the pilots, were accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries on board.

Danish shipping giant Maersk said it had chartered the vessel, which was carrying its customers’ cargo. No Maersk crew and personnel were on board. The collapse caused Maersk share at the Nasdaq Copenhagen to plummet 2% in early Tuesday trading.

Impact of collapse on roads, waterways

The Maryland Transportation Authority encouraged drivers to avoid the Interstate 695 corridor, with closures on the outer loop at MD-10 and the inner loop at MD-157/Peninsula Exp. Traffic is being detoured to Interstate 95 and Interstate 895. Anyone heading that direction should plan for delays “until further notice.”

Though vessel traffic is suspended through the Port of Baltimore “until further notice,” the port itself is not shut down, according to a news release from the Maryland Port Administration.

“We are still processing trucks inside of our terminals,” the administration said.

The Port of Baltimore is one of the largest shipping hubs in the U.S. and is particularly influential in the realm of automobile imports and exports.

Meanwhile, the Port of Virginia said in a statement it’s ready to provide assistance to the Baltimore port. The Port of Virginia said it’s been in contact with vessels that were planning to dock in Maryland and need to be rerouted.

Biden said the channel will need to be cleared before ships can travel through and the Army Corps of Engineers is leading that effort.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said his office will “continue to work in partnership with every part of government to do everything we can to get us through the other side of this tragedy.”

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