‘Heroes’ jump in to stop traffic on the Baltimore Bridge before it collapses

BALTIMORE (AP) — It was midnight when a dispatcher’s 12-second warning crackled over the radio: A huge cargo ship had lost its steering power and was heading for Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Within about 90 seconds, police officers responded that they were able to stop traffic on the Baltimore Bridge in both directions. One said he was going to drive over the bridge to alert a construction worker.

A container stands against the ruins of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, as seen from Sparrows Point, Md., on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.  The ship slammed into Baltimore's main bridge early Tuesday morning, causing it to collapse within seconds and creating a terrifying scene as several vehicles plunged into the frigid river below.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A container stands against the ruins of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, as seen from Sparrows Point, Md., on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The ship slammed into Baltimore’s main bridge early Tuesday morning, causing it to collapse within seconds and creating a terrifying scene as several vehicles plunged into the frigid river below. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

But it was too late. The ship, underpowered and laden with huge containers, crashed into a support pillar.

“The whole bridge has collapsed,” said a frantic official. “Start, anyone start, everyone … the whole bridge has collapsed.”

When the shipping vessel collided with the Daly Pillar around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, it collapsed the long span of the bridge, a major link in the region’s transportation networks, into the Patapsco River. Due to the destruction of the bridge, it is feared that the traffic of the passengers will be torn apart An important shipping port is disrupted.

At least eight people drowned. Two survived, but six others, part of a construction crew filling the bridge hole, are missing and presumed dead. A search for their bodies was scheduled to begin on Wednesday morning.

Among the missing are people from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, diplomats from those countries said. Honduran citizen named Mayor Yasir Suajo Sandova.

Federal and state officials said the crash appeared to be an accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, and shipping in and out of the Port of Baltimore has been suspended indefinitely.

Capt. Michael Barnes Jr. of the Maritime Center for Responsible Energy said maneuvering vessels in and out of port in confined waters with limited room “is one of the most technically challenging and demanding things we do.”

“So there really are few things scarier than losing power in limited water,” he said. And when a ship loses rudder and steering, “it is truly at the mercy of the wind and current.”

The video showed the ship speeding about 9 mph (15 km) toward the 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer) bridge, which Maryland Governor Wes Moore said. Traffic was still moving across the span, and some vehicles were seen escaping in just a few seconds. The accident caused the span to break and fall into the water within seconds, and the jagged remains rose from the water in daylight.

Police said there was no evidence that anyone other than the workers went into the water, although they did not rule out the possibility.

A senior executive at the company that hired the crew, Browner Builders, said they were working in the middle of the bridge when it collapsed.

“It was completely unexpected,” said Jeffrey Pritzker, the company’s executive vice president. “We don’t know what else to say. We take such great pride in safety, and we have cones and signs and lights and barriers and flags.”

Jesus Campos, who worked on the bridge for Browner Builders and knew the crew members, said he was told they were on breaks and some were sitting in their trucks.

“I know that a month ago, I was there, and I know how it feels when the trailers go by,” Campos said. “Imagine it falling. It is quite difficult. Nobody knew what to do.”

Father Ako Walker, a Catholic priest at Sacred Heart of Jesus, said outside a vigil that he spent time with the families of the missing workers as they waited for news of their loved ones.

“You could see the pain on their faces,” Walker said.

Rescuers pulled two people out of the water. One person was treated at a hospital and released a few hours later.

The accident happened long before the busy morning commute on the bridge, which was used by 12 million vehicles last year.

From 1960 to 2015, there were 35 The big bridge collapsed Worldwide due to ship or barge collisions, according to the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.

Collapsed on Tuesday Shutting down shipping traffic at the port of Baltimore, a major hub, is sure to create a logistical headache for the East Coast for months, if not longer.

State Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said shipping in and out of the port would be suspended until further notice, although the facility was still open to trucks.

“Losing this bridge would devastate the entire area, as well as the entire East Coast,” said state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said it was too soon to give a deadline for cleaning the channel, which is about 50 feet (15 meters) deep, while President Joe Biden said he planned to travel to Baltimore soon and hoped the federal government would pay. Full cost of rebuilding.

Synergy Marine Group, which operates the ship, said the impact occurred while it was under the control of one or more pilots, local experts who help guide ships safely in and out of port. Synergy said in a statement Wednesday that one crew member was treated at a hospital for minor injuries.

The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Limited, and Danish shipping giant Maersk said it had chartered the vessel.

The 985-foot-long (300-meter-long) Dali was en route from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka and was flying a Singaporean flag, according to Marine Traffic data.

The ship also passed foreign port state inspections in June and September 2023. In the June 2023 inspection, a faulty monitor gauge for fuel pressure was corrected before the ship left port, Singapore’s Port Authority said in a statement on Wednesday.

Retired Baltimore Fire Department Chief Donald Heinbuch said he was startled by a deep rumble that shook his house for a few seconds and “felt like an earthquake.”

He went to the river and could not believe what he saw: “The ship was there, and the bridge was in the water, as if it had been blown up.”

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott called the incident an “unthinkable tragedy.” Governor Moore said that “all of our hearts break for the victims and their families,” and he commended first responders for their quick response.

“Being able to literally stop cars from coming over the bridge, these guys are heroes,” Moore said. “They saved lives last night.”

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