Vessel Impact Collapses Major Interstate Bridge in Baltimore

A construction crew was working on the Francis Scott Key Bridge when it buckled, and six crew members who fell into the water are missing.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, which carries Interstate-695 Baltimore Beltway traffic, collapsed in the early morning hours of March 26, after a large container vessel collided with one of its through-truss central pylons. Eight members of a construction crew performing concrete deck pothole repairs on the four-lane bridge for the Maryland Transportation Authority were on the section that collapsed after being struck at 1:40 AM, and fell into the Patapsco River, Maryland Secretary of Transportation Paul Wiedefeld told reporters at a morning  press conference.

 Two were rescued but six remain unaccounted for, he said. Crew members were working for multiple contractors but neither they nor their employers were identified. The authority operates the toll bridge. Wieidefeld said there is no indication of terrorism or any deliberate act.

According to the Baltimore Fire Dept., one of those rescued is in serious condition at an area hospital. The other person refused treatment. Sonar also detected the presence of several vehicles that fell in the 50-ft-deep Patapsco River, the department said.

 Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) said the vessel’s crew told authorities that they lost power around the time of the collision. The bridge was also up to code, he said, with no known structural issues.

After a mayday call was made ahead of the collapse, workers stopped cars from continuing onto the bridge, a rapid response that Moore said saved lives. “These people are heroes,” he said.

Wiedefeld told CNN earlier that the ship looked like it was off course before the impact and that “obviously it should be in the main channel, which is under that main span.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, among multiple federal and state agencies,

The incident occurred at 1:28 a.m. as the nearly 1,000-ft-long Singapore-flagged container vessel “Dali” was leaving the Port of Baltimore en route to Sri Lanka.

Video of the incident suggests that the vessel was in the process of turning when it struck the pylons supporting the main span, sending large parts of the steel super structure crashing onto the vessel and into the water.

Synergy Marine Group, the vessel owner, said in a statement that all crew members, including two pilots who were aboard, have been accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries among the crew.

The Key bridge opened in 1977 after a five-year, $110-million construction effort, with design by Singstad, Kehart, November & Hurka. Superstructure contractor Pittsburgh Des Moines Steel Corp. fabricated the main truss and John F. Beasley Construction Co. was the project steel erector.

Click here for details of the ENR project cover story.

The 8,636-ft long continuous through-truss bridge was the longest bridge in the metropolitan area and included the third-longest main span of its type in the world, says an ENR analysis (click on third photo of link for more detail)

According to Maryland state data, it carried more than 12.4 million commercial and passenger vehicles in 2023.

The collapsed bridge also blocks vessel access to the Port of Baltimore, the nation’s 15th largest port in container tons handled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Its public terminals handled 11.7 million tons of general cargo last year, according to Maryland Ports Authority data, and 52.3 million tons of international cargo.

Speaking at midday March 26 from the White House, President Joe Biden addressed the Key Bridge collapse, pledging full federal support, in the aftermath of today’s Francis Scott Key bridge bridge collapse in Baltimore. That includes full federal funding for a replacement bridge. “It’s my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge,” he said. “And I expect the Congress to support my effort.” 

Biden said of the rebuild, “It’s going to take some time and the people of Baltimore can count on us to stick with them at every step of the way.”

He also said that ship traffic in the port has been “suspended until further notice,” adding, “And we’ll need to clear that channel before the ship traffic can resume.”

Biden said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is “on the spot and will help lead this effort to clear the channel.”

He noted the importance of the port and said, “We’re going to get it up and running as soon as possible.”

Biden said he was directing his team “to move heaven and earth” to get the port reopened and a new bridge constructed.