Divers recover 2 bodies from river after Baltimore bridge collapse

Divers recover 2 bodies from river after Baltimore bridge collapse
Emergency boats work near the collapsed section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.
PHOTO: Reuters

BALTIMORE - Divers on March 27 recovered the remains of two of the six missing workers tossed into Baltimore Harbour from a highway bridge that collapsed into shipping lanes after being rammed by a faltering cargo freighter, officials said.

The bodies were pulled from the Patapsco River, a day after the massive container ship lost power and its ability to maneuver before plowing into a support pylon of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, knocking most it into the water below.

A Maryland State Police official said the truck containing the bodies of the two men was found in about 25 feet of water near the mid-section of the fallen bridge. He also said that further efforts to recover remains were being suspended because of the increasingly treacherous conditions.

Four more workers who were part of a crew filling potholes on the bridge’s road surface at the time remained missing and were declared on the night of March 26 to be presumed dead, 18 hours after the crash.

Collapse of the bridge, a major highway artery across the harbour, forced an indefinite closure of the Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest on the US Eastern Seaboard, handling more automobile and farm equipment freight.

Earlier in the day, federal investigators examined the cargo ship while emergency teams searched for bodies and details emerged of the intense efforts to save lives in the minutes before the steel span collapsed.

“Hold all traffic on the Key Bridge. There’s a ship approaching that just lost their steering,” someone said on police radio minutes before the 1:30am crash on March 26.

While voices were heard discussing next steps, including alerting any work crews to leave the bridge, one broke through to say: “The whole bridge just fell down!” The audio was carried by Broadcastify, an open-source audio streaming service.

The recording offered a glimpse of how authorities scrambled before the crash sent six bridge repair workers on the night shift to their deaths in the frigid black waters.

The Singapore-flagged Dali, a container ship the length of three football fields, had reported a loss of power before impact and dropped anchor to slow the vessel, giving authorities barely enough time to halt traffic on the bridge and likely prevent greater loss of life.

The disaster closed the Port of Baltimore and created a traffic quagmire for Baltimore and the densely populated region.

The bridge collapse could cost insurers billions of dollars in claims, analysts said, with one putting the cost at as much as US$4 billion (S$5.39 billion), which would make the tragedy a record shipping insurance loss.

Investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board recovered the data recorder after boarding the ship late on March 26 and returned to the vessel the following day to interview the ship’s crew, other survivors and emergency responders, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said.

Rescuers pulled two workers from the water alive on March 26, and one was hospitalised. The six workers who had been presumed dead included immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, officials said.


Focus on opening port, cause of crash

The US Coast Guard’s priorities are to restore the waterway for shipping, stabilise the vessel and extricate it, Vice-Admiral Peter Gautier said at a White House news briefing.

“The real critical thing here is that, as you know, a portion of the bridge remains on the bow on that ship,” he said. The Coast Guard would work with the US Army Corps of Engineers to remove the debris before the vessel is moved, he said.

The wreck drew attention to the vessel’s safety record, but Vice-Adm Gautier said the ship had a “fairly good safety record”.

Of the ship’s 4,700 cargo containers, 56 hold hazardous materials but there is no threat to the public, he said. Two containers went overboard during the crash but they did not contain hazardous materials.

The ship is carrying more than 1.5 million gallons of fuel oil, he added.

Data from the ship will provide investigators with a timeline of what happened, the NTSB’s Homendy told reporters as she prepared to board the vessel. The NTSB scheduled a briefing for the evening of March 27.


The process will involve taking photos of the ship and the 47-year-old bridge and getting electronic logs. The agency will also examine whether contaminated fuel played a role in the ship’s power loss, she said.

The Port of Baltimore handles more automobile freight than any other US port - more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data, as well as container and bulk cargo ranging from sugar to coal.

Still, economists and logistics experts said they doubted the port closure would unleash a major US supply chain crisis or major spike in the price of goods, due to ample capacity at rival shipping hubs along the Eastern Seaboard.

The loss of the bridge also snarled roadways across Baltimore, forcing drivers onto two other congested harbour crossings and complicating daily commutes and regional traffic detours for months or even years to come.

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