Baltimore bridge collapse: Search called off with 6 presumed dead

The Coast Guard suspended its search Tuesday evening for six missing bridge workers in the aftermath of a crash that brought down a major Baltimore span and sent a construction crew plummeting into the frigid water below.

Citing the cold water temperature and the length of time since the bridge’s collapse, Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said at a news conference that the agency did not believe it would “find any of these individuals still alive.”

For the record:

4:25 p.m. March 26, 2024An earlier version of this article said that a body had been recovered by searchers. The source for that information, a member of the Baltimore City Council, later said she had misspoken.

The search was halted about 7:30 p.m., officials said.

Col. Roland Butler of the Maryland State Police described treacherous conditions for rescuers, including debris and changing currents. Butler said divers would resume the search Wednesday at 6 a.m. to try to retrieve the bodies.

“We do not know where they are,” he said, “but we intend to give it our best effort to help these families find closure.”

Baltimore City Council member Phylicia Porter previously told CNN that one body was recovered during search-and-rescue efforts but later said she misspoke. Butler confirmed that no bodies had been recovered as of Tuesday evening.

“This was so completely unforeseen,” said Jeffrey Pritzker, executive vice president of Brawner Builders, which employed the workers. “We don’t know what else to say. We take such great pride in safety, and we have cones and signs and lights and barriers and flaggers.”

Besides the construction crew, several vehicles were on the bridge when it collapsed; five were found on the bed of the river below. Officials do not yet know whether anyone was trapped inside.

The Dali, a Singaporean ship, was traveling at about 8 knots and lost power before it plowed into one of the pillars supporting the Francis Scott Key Bridge around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said at a news conference. The impact quickly caused much of the bridge to buckle, dropping major portions into the Patapsco River.

The tragedy prompted Moore to declare a state of emergency, saying that the state was “working with an interagency team to quickly deploy federal resources.”

Eight members of the construction crew working on the bridge fell into the water, and two were quickly rescued; one declined treatment, and the other was hospitalized, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said at a news conference.

Those who remain unaccounted for were believed to have been repairing masonry and potholes on the bridge when it collapsed, Wiedefeld said.

Moore said that the bridge was “fully up to code” and that crew members on the Dali issued an emergency distress call shortly before the crash. There wasn’t any credible evidence that terrorism was involved, Moore said.

“Never would you think that you would see — physically see — the Key Bridge tumble down like that. It looked like something out of an action movie,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, calling it “an unthinkable tragedy.”

The mayday call gave officials enough time to stop traffic on both sides of the bridge and try to evacuate people before the collapse, Moore said.

“By being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes,” he added. “They saved lives.”

Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said in a CNN interview Tuesday morning that sonar had detected five vehicles on the bed of the river— three passenger vehicles, a cement truck and an unknown vehicle.

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

A container ship sits idle after striking the Francis Scott Key Bridge, cause its collapse into the Patapsco River in Baltimore early Tuesday.

(Al Drago / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Synergy Marine Group, which manages and owns the ship, said in a statement that one or more pilots were operating it when it hit a bridge pillar. The pilots are local specialists who help navigate ships safely into ports. The ship was heading to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the time of the crash.

All crew members, including the two pilots, were accounted for; no injuries were reported among the crew, according to the company.

The ship’s management and owners are “fully cooperating with federal and state government agencies” as an investigation into the crash begins, the company said in a statement. The Dali is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd., also a Singaporean company. The Times could not immediately reach the company.

President Biden said in a Tuesday news briefing at the White House that he intended to have the federal government pay the full cost of rebuilding the bridge and that reconstruction would take “some time.”

Biden also said he planned to visit Baltimore as soon as possible.

“Our prayers are with everyone involved in this terrible accident and all the families — especially those waiting for the news of their loved one right now,” Biden said. “I know every minute in that circumstance feels like a lifetime. You just don’t know. It’s just terrible.”

Ship traffic and the busy Port of Baltimore, which sees around 850,000 service vehicles each year, has been suspended until further notice, Biden said. The bridge also is crucial for travel, the president said, noting that more than 30,000 vehicles cross daily.

“We’re gonna get it up and running again as soon as possible,” Biden said, adding that “15,000 jobs depend on that port, and we’re going to do everything we can to protect those jobs and help those workers.”

Jennifer Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said in a news conference Tuesday that the agency would investigate the cause of the bridge collapse but was “standing back” during search-and-rescue efforts.

The agency will look into the vessel’s maintenance and safety history as well as the construction of the bridge and its design, Homendy said. The NTSB will also verify whether the loss of power to the ship led to the crash, she said.

Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the Baltimore Fire Department, said that some cargo appeared to be dangling from the bridge, which spans the Patapsco River at the entrance to a busy harbor. The river leads to the Port of Baltimore, a major hub for shipping on the East Coast. Opened in 1977, the bridge is named for the writer of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Dali is chartered by Maersk, a Danish shipping company, and had the Maersk logo on the ship, according to a statement by the company. No Maersk crew members were aboard the vessel, which was about three football fields long and half a field wide.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), whose congressional district includes the bridge and the Port of Baltimore, said in a statement that he’s spoken with the White House and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“They are responding with all of the assets at their disposal,” Mfume said. “Our prayers right now are for the missing individuals and victims of this tragedy. We thank God for the effective service of our first responders.”

The Associated Press and Times staff writer Grace Toohey contributed to this report.

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