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Baltimore, MD - Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapses

Megan Hayes | News Editor

Photos taken right after the Dali collapsed the Key Bridge./ Carol Guzy, NPR, 2024

At around 1:30am this past Tuesday, March 26th, a 984-foot-long cargo ship from Singapore, named "the Dali", lost control of it's steering and crashed into one of the main pillars of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland. The bridge, which was a focal point of travel through the Baltimore metropolitan area, opened in 1977 and crosses over the Patapsco River carrying Interstate 695 - making it a huge travel hub both by car and ship.

The Dali was originally heading to Sri Lanka after stopping at the port of Baltimore (on-shore of the Patapsco river) at about 12:45am. However, around 1:24am, a livestream camera of the bridge captured the lights on the cargo ship turning off, and then shortly turning back on. After this, alarms started going off on the bridge portion of the container ship, loud enough to be audible to passerby. At 1:26am, the Dali looks to lose power again, and it goes off course and starts drifting in the direction of one of the Key bridge's main columns - which provide most of the support to the steel arched bridge. During this time on the livestream, vehicles can still be seen crossing the bridge. A mayday call was made within the same minute, allowing officials to stop traffic from crossing both sides of the bridge, safely clearing cars.

More mayday calls are sent at around 1:27am, requesting the ship's anchor be dropped and tugboat assistance be sent immediately. Even thought the ship was only moving at around 8mph, the ship not having any sort of residual steering caused a huge panic - which was lucky enough to have cleared all vehicles from the bridge before the collision, which as mentioned happened at 1:30am. The ship collided with one of the main support columns of the Francis Scott Key bridge, quickly causing it to crumble into the Patapsco.

The only people left on the bridge at this time were construction workers who were filling up potholes on the bridge. Two of the workers safely escaped, but six became unaccounted for - two of the six bodies have been located in the water below the bridge. The families of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo, 26, are mourning the loss of their family members in this tragic accident, and the other four workers unaccounted for are unfortunately presumed to be deceased given the waters depth and temperature. Divers and crews are working on clearing the tons of debris from the water as well as searching for the victims.

The Dali passed routine inspections in 2023 and was fixed for a faulty fuel leak, as well as undergoing trip inspections before it's planned trip from Baltimore to Sri Lanka, indicating it was an accident. The ship was reported to have "lost propulsion" due to a "power issue", reported directly by the crew. Investigations are still underway to identify the definite cause and specific mechanical failure that caused this tragedy to happen, although they must first secure the Dali to prevent fuel leaks and remove it from the water. The tragedy did not involve any workers on the ship, and all are safe and accounted for. The Dali will be taken back to the port of Baltimore and unloaded.

The aftermath of this tragic accident yields an unforeseen future, as the bridge took upwards of five years to build and will severely impact Baltimore's metropolitan area through travel and business. It will most likely cause problems all along the East Coast, as this will shut down ship traffic at the port of Baltimore - businesses are already preparing for what this means for them - some may face closure due to lack of income from products. There is currently no estimated time for when the channel that the bridge collapsed in will be cleared, as it is 50ft deep. President Biden plans to travel to Baltimore and have the federal government account for the cost of rebuilding the bridge. The impact is insurmountable to picture, but rebuilding will ensure something like this doesn't happen again.


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