‘Dire Emergency’: Cargo Ship Strikes, Collapses Key Bridge in Baltimore; UPDATE: Six Missing

A bridge collapse in Baltimore this morning, caused by what appears to have been a disabled container ship, has left as many as 20 people missing and a major transportation corridor ruptured. Surveillance cameras caught the collision and the immediate collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge at 1:30 this morning. The Dali had just left Baltimore for Sri Lanka when it appeared to lose power, catch fire, and then plow into a bridge pillar:


At least 20 people were believed to be in the water, and the container ship appeared to be billowing smoke, officials said.

They said at a press conference at about 6:40 a.m. that two people had been rescued from the water. 

Video posted on the social platform X showed the ship striking one of the support columns of the bridge, causing it and multiple vehicles to collapse and plunge into the water. Temperatures were in the low 40s.

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

A full-scale emergency response has already been launched. The Coast Guard has brought considerable assets to local police and fire departments, with the chief aim to get survivors out of the water as fast as possible. Some got rescued immediately:

The Coast Guard has deployed four response boats as well as a helicopter to aid in the search and rescue mission. Several police helicopters were also seen circling the area Tuesday morning.

Authorities are using sonar and underwater drones. Divers have battled against water temperature, tide and darkness in their efforts, Wallace said. …

Chadonne Grant, an overnight security officer at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, said Tuesday morning that the hospital had admitted several patients involved with the collapse. She didn’t know how many — “not a lot” — but said they were brought in by helicopter about 2:30 a.m. or 3 a.m.


For now, it looks as though everyone on the Dali escaped injury. Clearly something went wrong with the ship before the collision took place. In the video, the lights go on and off multiple times while it appears to roam without any control. The boat didn’t belong under that section of the bridge at all, as Maryland transportation secretary Paul Wiedefeld told CNN at the above link. Commercial traffic should pass under the center of the bridge.

CNN also reports that the ship was helmed by a local pilot, as is custom:

The container ship Dali, which had just left the Port of Baltimore and was en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka, was not being piloted by its own crew, but by local pilots who are used specifically to avoid accidents like the one that occurred early Tuesday morning.

“Pilots move ships in and out of the Port of Baltimore,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld at a news conference Tuesday.

The pilots get on board just outside of local channels, and take the ships into ports. Outbound ships like this one take the ships from the ports out to open water.

Given the sequence in the video, it seems unlikely that this would be pilot error. The power outages that clearly can be seen suggest a mechanical failure, likely before the video picked up the vessel’s distress. Whatever happened must have happened quickly; the ship had left the port of Baltimore just 28 minutes prior to the collision. The NTSB will clearly have its hands full with this investigation.


The “dire emergency” relates solely to the saving of lives, obviously, but this is going to be a crisis for much longer than in these first few hours. Baltimore is a major hub for imports and exports, and the Key Bridge was part of Interstate 695. It will take at least several weeks or more just to clear the wreckage out of the harbor and restore shipping capability to Baltimore; it will take a lot longer to rebuild the Key Bridge, which was just a couple of years short of its 50th anniversary. This will make times tougher for the people of Baltimore, who aren’t doing tremendously well in the first place. Let’s just hope that everyone gets out of the water alive to face the new challenges. 

I’ll add updates as needed to this post. Major developments may be added in new articles later.

Update: Via Twitchy, here’s an instant analysis by a maritime professional, John Konrad, from the GCaptain site:

Cameras from the Vessel Traffic Service captured footage of the collision and subsequent collapse. The ship’s lights went out twice before the collision, indicating possible issues in the engine room. Despite the quick restoration of lighting, this suggests a full blackout occurred, prompting the emergency generator to restore basic electrical services and lighting.

Without propulsion or tugboats, a ship this size is nearly impossible to stop.

The emergency generator does not connect to propulsion but should support steering and navigation systems but the ships heading appears to have been pushed off course by the wind directly into the support column. …

According to past photos, she is equipped with a bow thruster. However, these are not typically connected to emergency power systems. Even if it were engaged, bow thrusters are designed for slow-speed maneuvers and have a limited ability to push the bow into the wind when the ship’s speed exceeds 5 knots.


Keep the link handy, as Konrad says he will update the story as more information emerges. 

Update: Baltimore officials have updated the media on the status of the rescue. At the moment, they have six people definitely identified as missing, all from the road construction crew working on the bridge at the time:

Update: Why wasn’t there more traffic on the bridge? The Dali issued a mayday and that allowed police to intervene before the crash:

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore says the cargo ship reported losing power just before it crashed and caused the bridge to collapse.

Moore said Tuesday that a mayday call from the ship allowed officials to limit traffic on the bridge before the crash.

That matches up to the video pretty well, and tends to point even more to mechanical failure rather than pilot error. 



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