Cargo ship hits Baltimore’s Key Bridge, bringing it down. Rescuers are looking for people in water

A container ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, causing a section of the bridge to collapse into the river below. The incident occurred early Tuesday morning, leading to a search for survivors as several vehicles plunged into the water. The cause of the crash remains unclear, sparking concerns of a potential mass casualty event in the area.

The impact of the cargo ship on one of the bridge’s supports caused the structure to buckle and fall into the water within moments, accompanied by a fire on the vessel and thick black smoke. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott described the scene as reminiscent of an action movie, labeling it an “unthinkable tragedy.”

While two people were rescued, authorities speculated that up to seven individuals might still be unaccounted for. The exact number of casualties remained uncertain as rescue efforts continued. Sonar detected submerged vehicles in the water, with temperatures around 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the Baltimore Fire Department, referred to the incident as a “developing mass casualty event,” noting the uncertainty surrounding the number of affected individuals. Synergy Marine Group, the ship’s owner, confirmed the collision and accounted for all crew members, including two pilots on board.

As daylight revealed the extent of the damage, remnants of the bridge protruded from the water’s surface, with cargo dangling from some sections. Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld announced the suspension of vessel traffic into and out of the port, although truck operations remained unaffected.

Governor Wes Moore declared a state of emergency and sought federal assistance. While the FBI was present at the scene, terrorism was not suspected. President Joe Biden received a briefing on the situation. The container ship involved, named the Dali, was en route from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, under a Singapore flag.

Maersk, a Danish shipping company, chartered the vessel, which was carrying cargo for its customers. No Maersk personnel were on board at the time of the incident. The collapse had immediate economic repercussions, with Maersk’s shares falling by 2% in early trading. The incident evoked memories of a 2001 freight train derailment and fire in downtown Baltimore, which led to significant disruptions in the area.

What do we know about the people on the bridge?

  • It is not clear how many people were on the bridge at the time of the crash. Baltimore officials said at least seven vehicles plunged into the water, but they could not give an exact figure.
  • Kevin Cartwright, the spokesperson for the Baltimore City Fire Department, said “numerous vehicles and possibly a tractor-trailer … went into the river.”
  • “This is a mass-casualty, multiagency event,” he said. “This operation is going to extend for many days.”
  • Two people have been saved from the water so far, Baltimore Fire Department Chief James Wallace said.
  • The water in Baltimore Harbor is about 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit), which makes the rescue operations urgent.
  • According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypothermia is possible in any water temperature below 21C (70F).
  • According to the University of Minnesota, at water temperatures Baltimore is experiencing, a person can lose “coordinated hand and finger movements in less than 5 minutes, lose consciousness in 30 to 60 minutes, and can likely swim only 7 to 40 minutes before exhaustion and die 1 to 3 hours even with flotation”.