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Cargo ship lost power before colliding with Baltimore bridge; 6 presumed dead

Written by on March 26, 2024

The US Coast Guard says it is suspending its search and rescue efforts for the six individuals still missing after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

“I’d like to announce tonight that based on the length of time that we’ve gone in this search, the extensive search efforts we’ve put into it, the water temperature, that at this point we do not believe that we’re going to find any of these individuals still alive,” Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath told reporters at a Tuesday evening news conference.

The collapse occurred after a massive container ship lost power early Tuesday and crashed into the bridge, sending people and vehicles into the frigid Patapsco River.

The six missing people are believed to have been part of a construction crew repairing potholes on the bridge, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld said at a news conference earlier Tuesday.

“We are going to suspend the active search and rescue efforts. Coast Guard’s not going away, none of our partners are going away, but we’re just going to transition to a different phase,” Gilreath said.

Earlier Tuesday, two people were pulled from the Patapsco River, Baltimore City Fire Department Chief James Wallace said. One was not injured and the other was taken to a local trauma center in “very serious condition,” he said. A patient being treated at the University of Maryland Medical Center was discharged later Tuesday, the hospital said in a statement.

Baltimore City Council Member Phylicia Porter told CNN’s Boris Sanchez on Tuesday afternoon a body had been recovered from the river, but later said she misspoke. Col. Roland L. Butler Jr., secretary of Maryland State Police, confirmed during the Tuesday evening news conference that no bodies have been recovered from the river.

Efforts will now shift focus to finding the missing people to provide closure to their families, Butler said.

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

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on “The Source” Tuesday night he and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller had spent “quite a bit of time” with the families of the six people now presumed dead and “prayed with them, and we prayed over them and we prayed for them.”

“The strength of these families, it really is remarkable, because what they really did was they reminded us who these individuals were — that they weren’t just special workers who were doing important work for the city and for the state. But they were people who were husbands, and sons, and fathers, and brothers-in-law,” the governor told Collins. “This is a really devastated community of families and so we each want them to know we’re here for them always.”

“We’re thankful that between the mayday and the collapse, that we had officials who were able to begin to stop the flow of traffic so more cars were not on the bridge,” Moore said. He called those officials heroes.

Moore noted that the bridge was up to code at the time of the collapse. He said the collapse was a “shocking and heartbreaking” event for the people of Maryland who have used the bridge for 47 years.

Several vehicles are believed to have fallen into the water, including one as large as a tractor-trailer, Kevin Cartwright, director of communications of the Baltimore City Fire Department said early Tuesday.

Search and rescue crews used infrared and sonar technology to “mark” five vehicles under water in the Patapsco River, three of which are believed to be passenger vehicles, Wallace told CNN on Tuesday. There are eight dive teams made up of about 50 divers, working on the rescue effort, he added.

There are no known victims in the water who were in vehicles on the bridge at the time of the accident, Wiedefeld said.

“We have an unspeakable tragedy,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott told CNN.

“There were individuals working on the bridge at the time. There are cars in the water – our fire department has confirmed that as they lead this search-and-rescue mission through sonar. That is where our focus is – it’s about those souls, those people we’re trying to find and get out of this water,” Scott said.

Construction workers contracted with the state transportation agency were doing repair work on the bridge at the time of the collapse, Wiedefeld said Tuesday morning.

State and federal officials have not released information about the identities of any of the six missing workers.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guatemala said in a statement late Tuesday two of the missing workers are of Guatemalan origin — one is a 26-year-old originally from San Luis, Petén, and the other is a 35-year-old from Camotán, Chiquimula.

The ministry did not name them, but said both were part of a work team “repairing the asphalt on the bridge at the time of the accident.”

Guatemala’s consul general in Maryland is in contact with local authorities and hopes to be able to meet with the brothers of both missing people, the statement said.

The ship, which hit the bridge just before 1:30 a.m., was the DALI, a Singaporean-flagged container vessel, Coast Guard spokesperson Kimberly Reaves said. It’s about 984-feet long and 157-feet wide, Synergy Group spokesman Pat Adamson told CNN. It was leaving Baltimore when it crashed, according to the company website.

Previously, the US Coast Guard reported it was a 948-foot container ship.

The ship dropped its anchors as part of an emergency procedure before hitting the bridge, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore told CNN. The vessel is currently holding its position at the site of the collision and is in a stable condition and all 22 of the ship’s crew members are safe and accounted for, the agency added.

Lights on the ship flickered and a dark plume of smoke could be seen billowing from it before it veered towards a bridge pillar shortly before impact, CNN analysis of data from MarineTraffic shows.

No crew members on the ship were injured, ship management company Synergy Group said a statement.

Ship’s pilot did ‘everything that he could have done,’ pilots association official says

The pilot of the ship did “everything that he could have done” to both slow the vessel down and keep it from drifting toward the bridge, according to Clay Diamond, executive director and general counsel of the American Pilots Association.

Diamond told CNN he has been in close communication with the Association of Maryland Pilots regarding what unfolded on the Dali cargo ship in the moments leading up to the crash.

“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 said.

The pilot quickly gave a string of orders, calling for a hard rudder to port – as far left as possible – and for the anchor to be dropped. The pilot was the one who contacted the pilot dispatch office to shut down traffic to the bridge, Diamond said.

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