Crews Removing Collapsed Baltimore Bridge

TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 2024


Engineers are reportedly working to remove the first pieces of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore as an investigation continues into what factors caused the fatal incident.

Rescue operations have also now turned to recovery efforts for the remaining workers who were on the bridge when it collapsed, with the Maryland governor saying it was a “really heartbreaking conclusion to a challenging day.”

What Happened

The bridge collapse occurred around 1 a.m. on March 26 after a container ship ran into one of the bridge's supports. Video and images showed the collapse, with part of the bridge landing on top of the shipping vessel.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore confirmed at a press conference that day that the cargo ship Dali had reported losing power just before it crashed. Moore said that an emergency call from the ship allowed officials to limit traffic on the bridge before the crash, as the structure typically sees thousands of vehicles per day.

According to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sonar had indicated that there were vehicles in the water, where the temperature was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

With the frigid temperature, in addition to coastal flood advisories around Chesapeake Bay and rip currents, search and rescue crews said at the time that weather conditions have been complicating operations. Additionally, the human survivability at that temperature is one to three hours.

Maryland State Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said that eight people were on the bridge at the time of its collapse. Following the accident, two were rescued from the water, with one sent to the hospital and the other described as “okay.”

Later, the patient who was taken to the R Adams Cowley Shock Center following the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse was discharged, according to a release from the University of Maryland Medical Center. The patient's details will reportedly not be discussed.

In response, Moore also reportedly declared a state of emergency after the incident and said that he was working to get federal resources deployed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was on the scene and have since confirmed that there was “no indication of terrorism as a motivating factor.”

The container ship was reportedly chartered by shipping company Maersk and was carrying customer cargo when the incident occurred. However, no Maersk crew or personnel were on board the vessel at the time of the crash.

Synergy Marine Group, owner and manager of the ship, stated that the vessel hit a pillar of the bridge while two pilots were in control. It added that all crew members, including the pilots, were accounted for and there were no reports of any injuries on the ship.

The Dali was reportedly not being piloted by its own crew, but by local pilots who are used specifically to avoid accidents like the one that occurred. The pilots typically get on board just outside of local channels and take the ships into ports.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene to lead the investigation into the collapse. At a press conference that day, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said they believe that voyager data will play a critical role in the investigation.

A team of 24 experts plan to dig into nautical operations, vessel operations, safety history records, owners, operators, company policy and any sort of safety management systems or programs.

What Now

On Wednesday (March 27), the bodies of two workers were recovered from a pickup truck submerged in about 25 feet of water. Governor Moore said that while the search for the other four bodies remains a priority, he cannot provide a timeline for their recovery due to “how complex this operation is.”

Weather conditions and the debris underwater have also made it too dangerous for divers to search in the remaining vehicles and for the victims.

That same day, Homendy reported that the vessel had 56 containers on board of corrosive flammable material and batteries, adding that some of the containers were breached. One of the materials was sheen, which is used in paint, and that has leaked into the Patapsco River.

NTSB officials had also boarded the vessel to obtain its black box, which provided an initial timeline of events through voyage data recorder information. “Numerous aural alarms were recorded on the ships’ bridge audio,” the NTSB found around 1:24 a.m.

Around 1:29 a.m., recordings for about 30 seconds picked up sounds consistent with it colliding with the bridge, the board said. A Transportation Authority dash camera also reportedly shows lights on the bridge going out.

The device also reportedly briefly stopped recording then turned on again using the ship’s redundant power source. The investigation is ongoing and expected to take 12 to 24 months; however, a preliminary report should come out in two to four weeks, and the agency may issue urgent safety recommendations sooner.

On Sunday (March 31), Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said that a 1,000-ton capacity lift crane is on site and a 600-ton crane is on its way to help remove dismantled pieces of the bridge.

“This is going to be a very complex process,” he said. “There are, even now, forces acting on that steel, so it takes a lot to make sure that it can be dismantled safely, to make sure that the vessel stays where it is supposed to be and doesn’t swing out into the channel.”

Officials at the site of the bridge collapse told CNN they are doing engineering analysis and surveys to determine how to tackle the 3,000 to 4,000 tons of mangled wreckage that extends 50 feet deep into the channel.

Removing the thousands of tons of steel and concrete resting atop the vessel’s bow will be one of the most intricate parts of the dismantling operation, officials added. The wreckage will be lifted one piece at a time.

After each lift, responders will scan and survey the area and divers will go in the water, explained U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander and District Engineer Estee Pinchasin.

“We are not just looking at how we’re going to engineer this,” Pinchasin said. “We’re scanning to make sure that if we identify any vehicles or any of the fallen, that we are able to react.”

The work will allow for the opening of a temporary restricted channel for vessels to move into the area and assist with recovery, Moore said on Sunday.

Officials do not have a timeline for reopening the channel or rebuilding the bridge. The work is currently being funded through $60 million in emergency relief funds through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Bridge Design Discussion

According to reports, if the 47-year-old bridge had been built today, the structure could have potentially stood a better chance from the ship’s direct hit. Modern bridges tend to be supported by larger pillars and cables, with redundant design that means the loss of one support won’t topple the whole bridge.

The Key Bridge “was never designed to withstand any lateral force that could have possibly come from a ship,” said Sherif El-Tawil, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan who studies hazard mitigation. “The columns of the A-pier, one of them just snapped under this force, and the other one under the weight of the bridge just collapsed. That’s why the bridge went down so quickly.”

El-Tawil and other bridge safety experts say more modern bridge designs, like cable-stayed or suspension models, would have larger, better-protected piers for their supports.

While the truss-style bridge was among the most common types of long-distance bridges built in the 1970s, they “fell out of fashion” in the 1980s for both aesthetic and practical reasons, said Benjamin Schafer, a professor of civil and systems engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Cable-stay bridges then reportedly became more popular, as it required fewer parts and are easier to build compared to truss bridges. The use of multiple cables also creates more redundancy.

The Key Bridge, when rebuilt, is anticipated to become a cable-stayed or suspension bridge, since they are the preferred structures for intermediate lengths. However, the experts interviewed by USA Today cautioned that the collision was an extraordinary event, and there’s only so much to be done to make bridges safer than they already are. 

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Bridges; Fatalities; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Port Infrastructure; Program/Project Management; Ships and vessels; Transportation

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