Six Repair Workers Missing after Container Vessel Causes Baltimore Bridge Collapse

26 Mar, 2024 Liz Carey

                               

Baltimore, MD (WorkersCompensation.com) – Rescue crews continued to look for six workers unaccounted for after a bridge was struck and collapsed early Tuesday morning.

According to Paul Wiedefeld, Maryland’s transportation secretary, six people who were thought to have been on the bridge repairing pot holes were still missing by Tuesday afternoon. Two people had been rescued, Wiedefeld said, with one transported to a trauma center in serious condition. Officials said they thought the missing workers may have fallen into the Patapsco River.

The incident unfolded early on Tuesday morning, officials said. Around 1:30 a.m., as harbor crew members were piloting the vessel, Dali, out of the harbor, crew members radioed that they had lost power and had no propulsion. Soon after, the boat struck one of the pillars of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Contractors were working on the bridge at the time to repair potholes on Interstate 695.

The mayday call from the ship alerted officials to the pending collision, officials said, and to stop traffic at both ends of the bridge. Officials also tried to evacuate people from the bridge before it collapsed.

After the crew of the 10,000-container capacity vessel radioed they had lost power, the ship “drifted into the bridge,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said. “Before it hit the bridge, it issued a mayday warning, which did give folks enough time to stop some of the traffic crossing the bridge.”

Van Hollen said an investigation into the collapse was in its early stages, but that early indications suggest that the closure may have prevented cars from being on the bridge during the collapse. The vehicles used by road crew workers had been parked on the bridge, he said, and appeared to have fallen into the river below.

Officials said it was unclear how much time had elapsed between the mayday call and the collapse. According to audio published on Broadcastify, radio traffic from emergency workers suggested that the crew was struggling to steer the ship.

Wiedefeld said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that the incident was considered an active search and rescue mission, and that vessel traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore had been suspended until further notice.

“This is a very large incident, it involves a very large footprint,” Baltimore City Fire Department Chief James W. Wallace said in a press briefing.

Officials said that because it is unclear how many people went into the river once the 1,000-foot long container ship hit the bridge; they are calling the incident a “developing mass casualty event.”

Jim Bellingham, executive director for the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy said rescue crew face challenges when it comes to rescue efforts.

“Nothing is staying put in the ocean,” Bellingham, a marine robotics expert, told USA Today.

“Everything is moving” in the Patapsco River, he said, which makes rescue efforts more difficult. Rescue workers would have to determine the speed and direction of the current to begin to determine where to search.

It’s likely any workers on the bridge would have been wearing reflective vests, he said, and possibly even flotation devices that would improve visibility in the river. Bellingham also said they may have had flares to make them more visible by rescue helicopters.

But there could be drivers trapped in cars, or others trapped in the bridge’s wreckage, he said.

“That’s a very different search problem,” he said. “You have to go underwater and visibility in coastal waters is typically very poor.”

Officials said rescue workers would employ sonar, lights, cameras and robotic machinery as well as human divers. Divers would face their own risks, Bellingham said, because the wreckage might not be stable.

Nearby Navy and Coast Guard facilities and military contractors may be able to assist in rescue efforts as the search goes on, Bellingham said.

“Their job is to rescue people,” Bellingham said. “They want to believe they can do that, and there’s a tendency not to want to give up.”

However, the longer search efforts persist, the less likely rescuers are to find survivors, he said, given water temperatures and the likelihood of victims being trapped with an air supply.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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