Missing workers in Key Bridge collapse presumed dead, search called off: Live updates

Editor's Note: This page is a summary of news on the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse for Tuesday, March 26. For the latest news on the collapse, view our live updates file for Wednesday, March 27.

BALTIMORE − The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday evening it was calling off the search-and-rescue mission for the six construction workers that went missing when a cargo ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early in the morning, sending it collapsing into the frigid Patapsco River and shutting down a critical artery for East Coast shipping.

Officials said water temperatures around 46 to 48 degrees, poor visibility and changing currents played a role in the decision after a dogged attempt to find the workers.

“Based on the length of time that we’ve gone on this search, the extensive search efforts that we’ve put into it, the water temperature, at this point we do not believe that we’re going to find any of these individuals still alive,'' Coast Guard Rear Admiral Shannon N. Gilreath said in a news conference. "So this evening at about 7:30 we are going to suspend the active search-and-rescue efforts.’’

The focus of the operation would switch to recovery and restart at 6 a.m. Wednesday, officials said.

Around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday a Singapore-flagged vessel named Dali struck the Key Bridge as it was leaving the Port of Baltimore, causing the span to collapse in seconds. Officials said the crew warned of a power issue and sent out a "mayday" before the collision. Footage of the incident shows the cargo ship smash into one of the columns before the bridge snapped, hit the water and partially fell on the ship, where a burst of flames and smoke could be seen rising into the night sky.

Several vehicles were on the bridge at the time of impact and plunged into the river, which was cold enough to cause hypothermia. There were multiple contractors on the bridge who were repairing potholes, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said. So far two people have been rescued. One was unharmed and the other remains in "very serious condition," he said.

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at an afternoon news conference the agency will lead the investigation, but she would not provide information on fatalities or injuries from the incident, leaving that to local authorities.

A senior U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY the ship apparently lost power a few minutes before striking the bridge. A federal report has confirmed that version of events, saying the crew lost its ability to control the vessel.


∎ Brawner Builders, the employer of the six missing workers, told media outlets including the Baltimore Sun that they're presumed dead.

The University of Maryland Medical Center's trauma center treated one patient from the collapse who has been discharged, Michael Schwartzberg, the medical center's spokesperson, said in an email. Schwartzberg declined to say more about the person's injuries, citing patient privacy concerns.

Dr. David Efron, the center’s chief of trauma, said falling from the bridge − with clearance of more 185 feet − into 48-degree water would present life-threatening risks. Being submerged for more than an hour in water at that temperature is “almost invariably going to not be survivable.”

 The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to hold a news conference about its investigation into the incident Tuesday afternoon.

∎ Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott issued a state of emergency to better mobilize resources and work quickly to "address this crisis," he said in a post on X. The governor of Maryland issued a state of emergency earlier Tuesday.

Crew lost control as propulsion deserted ship, report says

The Dali lost propulsion leaving port and its crew lost control of the ship, prompting the crew to alert Maryland officials of a possible collision, an unclassified Department of Homeland Security report revealed Tuesday.

An official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed to USA TODAY that the DHS cybersecurity agency is working with federal, state and local officials "to understand the potential impacts of this morning’s collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge."

This was not the Dali's first harsh encounter with a pier, and that time its leadership was determined to be at fault. It's too early to know what caused Tuesday's accident.

The cargo ship that struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge collided with a shipping dock in Belgium in 2016. That incident occurred as the Dali was leaving port in Antwerp and hit a loading pier made of stone, causing damage to the ship’s stern, according to the VesselFinder.com website, which tracks ships across the world. An investigation determined a mistake made by the ship’s master and pilot was to blame.

No one was injured in that crash, although the ship required repair and a full inspection before being returned to service. The pier – or berth – was also seriously damaged and had to be closed.

− Josh Meyer, Emily Le Coz and Claire Thornton

Two Guatemalan workers among six missing

Two Guatemalan nationals are among the six workers who were on the bridge when it was struck early Tuesday, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry said. Their ages are 26 and 35, respectively, and their families have been notified, the ministry said in a statement, which also noted the other missing workers are from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.

"We will continue requesting information from the authorities and information about search and rescue efforts to find the missing Guatemalans," the statement said.

− Eduardo Cuevas

What did the most recent inspection report say about the bridge?

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was listed in overall fair condition in 2021, the most recent inspection report in the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory at the time of its collapse early Tuesday morning.

However, the database noted that, “Bank protection is in need of minor repairs. River control devices and embankment protection have a little minor damage. Banks and/or channel have minor amounts of drift.”

Other structural elements showed “some minor deterioration” but were otherwise listed in satisfactory condition.

− Cecilia Garzella and Yoonserk Pyun

'We're with you': Biden says federal government will rebuild bridge

President Joe Biden said he intends for the federal government to cover the entire cost to rebuild the Key Bridge, and he committed not to leave “until this job gets done.”

“We're with you. We're going to stay with you as long as it takes,” Biden said Tuesday afternoon from the White House Roosevelt Room.

Biden said he spoke with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and other local and state officials about the bridge’s collapse, and said he would visit the site in the future. “I told them we're going to send all the federal resources they need as we respond to this emergency − I mean all the federal resources. And we're going to rebuild that port together.”

Biden said eight people remain unaccounted for, but the figure might change. Two people were rescued. "Everything so far indicates that his was a terrible accident,” Biden said, adding there’s no reason to believe it was intentional.

“Our prayers are with everyone involved in this terrible accident and all the families, especially those waiting for news of their loved ones right now,” Biden said. “I know every minute in that circumstance feels like a lifetime.”

Biden said the ongoing rescue operation remains the top priority but relayed that he told Moore he has directed his team to “move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible."

− Joey Garrison

Crewman reports all on board Dali are safe

This past weekend, Andrew Middleton took the ship's captain and a crewman shopping at a nearby Walmart. Since 9/11, international crews have to be escorted by a vetted person through most port areas, and Middleton said it's fairly common for crews like the Dali's to request assistance from the Apostleship of the Sea Baltimore Stella Maris International Seafarers' Center, where he is the director. The group is part of the Catholic Church's Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"They were by all appearances in good spirits," Middleton said, and they chatted in his van about the ship's planned 28-day voyage around the Horn of Africa to Sri Lanka. Middleton said crews usually buy personal toiletries and snacks before long trips.

Middleton woke up Tuesday morning to the shocking news the ship hit the bridge, and he immediately messaged one of the crewmen via WhatsApp. "My question to him was, 'Is everyone OK?' And the answer was, 'Yes sir, everyone is safe,'" Middleton told USA TODAY.

The crew is still aboard the ship while authorities assess the situation. Middleton said he's prepared to send them any supplies they need if they're stuck aboard for an extended period. And he said he's making plans to help them once they're freed and returned to shore. He said he expects the Dali will be towed back into the harbor and docked for a damage assessment. Middleton added that he worries both about the missing workers from the bridge and also the port workers who may be temporarily unemployed if the harbor gets shut down.

"Obviously, this incident has a large impact on the port community,'' he said. "If this extends a long period of time, we're going to have longshoreman and stevedores who are not working, tugboat crews who are not working. It has the potential, if it becomes a drawn-out event, to affect many lives."

− Trevor Hughes

Commuter finds sight of damaged bridge 'devastating to watch'

Charlotte Robinson's commute from her home in Delaware to her accounting job in Washington, D.C., took a detour Tuesday morning, when driving over the Francis Scott Key Bridge wasn't an option. In the past she figured that route was safe, but the bridge's collapse sparked difficult discussions with her colleagues who commute.

"It was devastating to watch,'' Robinson said of the crumpled bridge after it was hit by a 985-foot-long cargo ship. "And you have to ask yourself, if that was me, what would my plan be? How would I try to survive this, if I was trapped, if my car went into the water?”

Robinson said she often sees ships passing under the bridge during her morning commute; in the evenings, when she’s on her way home, there are usually fewer boats. Tuesday, she said, “You could see all these boats, just lined up because they had no place to go.”

Another common sight during her commute was construction workers both on the bridge and below it, sometimes hanging over the water in harnesses. Her thoughts turned to those workers as she watched the news Tuesday in her office. "I almost couldn't breathe watching the news," she said.

− Phaedra Trethan

'It's devastating to the city'

Greg Trenchard, 43, awoke Tuesday to a flurry of text messages and missed calls from his out of state relatives checking in on him after hearing about the Key Bridge collapse.

“I’ve driven over it 100 times and now to see that it’s gone is pretty crazy,” he said Tuesday.

Trenchard, an auditor, said he then tried to make his way to Fort Armistead Park, where he’d come many times before to take photos of the bridge at sunrise and sunset. But the normally quick drive took nearly 40 minutes due to the traffic detours, and a police roadblock next to Royal Farms, a convenience store, about a mile and half from the park stopped him from getting any closer to the scene.

“It’s a blow,” he said of the collapse. “It’s devastating to the city, it’s devastating to port traffic and everything they’re trying to do to revitalize the shipping industry in Maryland and keep that going.”

N'dea Yancey-Bragg

Air, land and water search underway

Multiple local, state and federal agencies are coordinating the massive search, which spans a vast section of the river – both above and below the surface of the water – and the ship itself, Wallace said. Divers, helicopters and sonar technology were being used and had located several vehicles submerged in the river, which is about 50-feet-deep where the bridge collapsed.

"This water is current influenced, so right now we think the tide is coming back in," he said.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore declared a state of emergency and said he is working with an interagency team to "quickly deploy federal resources from the Biden Administration."

The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of a container ship after it struck the bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, 2024.
The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of a container ship after it struck the bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, 2024.

"This is an unthinkable tragedy," Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said at a news conference.

Expert says river current makes search more difficult

Jim Bellingham, the executive director for the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy and expert in marine robotics lives in nearby Fells Point, and talked to USA TODAY about some of the challenges faced by rescuers.

“Nothing is staying put in the ocean,” he said. “Everything is moving” in the Patapsco River, a tidal estuary, which presents just one difficulty for rescue efforts. Rescuers would have to determine the speed and direction of the current to figure out where to search – toward Baltimore Harbor, or out toward the Chesapeake Bay.

Bellingham said it’s likely any workers who may have been on the bridge would have been wearing reflective vests and even flotation devices that would improve visibility in the dark river. They might also have flares, and are more easily spotted by rescue helicopters.

Rescuers are using sonar, lights, cameras and robotic machinery as well as human divers, but Bellingham said divers would face their own risks, as the wreckage might not be stable.

The longer the search goes on, the less likely rescuers are to find survivors, given the temperature of the water, and the likelihood of people being trapped with little to no air. But Baltimore, with many Navy and Coast Guard facilities and military contractors nearby, might be as well prepared to deal with the disaster as any place.

“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.”

– Phaedra Trethan

Cargo ship was headed for Sri Lanka

The container vessel was chartered by the major shipping company Maersk and was carrying its cargo, according to a statement from the company. When it crashed into the bridge, no Maersk crew and personnel were onboard the vessel, which is operated by charter vessel company Synergy Group and owned by Singapore-based Grace Ocean Pte.

The Dali was slated to arrive April 22 in Sri Lanka, according to MarineTraffic, a global ship tracking service.

"We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected," Maersk said in a statement. "We are closely following the investigations conducted by authorities and Synergy, and we will do our utmost to keep our customers informed."

Synergy Marine Corp said the Dali collided with one of the pillars of the bridge and that all its crew members, including two pilots, have been accounted for and there were no reports of any injuries.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a major span over the Patapsco River in Baltimore, collapsed after it was struck by a Singapore-flagged container ship 'Dali'.
The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a major span over the Patapsco River in Baltimore, collapsed after it was struck by a Singapore-flagged container ship 'Dali'.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Erin Palmer said at a news conference Tuesday that the agencies remain focused on search-and-rescue. She did not comment on the crew of the ship or provide additional details about the collision.

All vessel traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore was suspended until further notice, but the port is still open for truck transports, Wiedefeld said. Traffic, meanwhile, is being diverted from the area around the Key Bridge.

Baltimore port closed to ships 'until further notice'

Shortly after the bridge collapse, the Port of Baltimore suspended vessel traffic “until further notice,” according to its website.

“This does not mean the Port of Baltimore is shut down. We are still processing trucks inside of our terminals,” the statement said.

But Bloomberg reported that the port “looks to be out of commission indefinitely.”

At least 40 ships are now more or less trapped inside the port, according to Reuters. At least 30 other ships planned to arrive there.

“They will likely have to reroute shipping to other ports on the East Coast,” said Kevin Linderman, a professor and supply chain expert at Pennsylvania State University. “However, this will put additional demand on these ports, and shippers may not be able to access US markets” as efficiently, he said.

“One critical question is, can the other ports handle the products that were destined to Baltimore?”

– Daniel de Visé

'A lot of tears' for families

Baltimore residents turned out to support those affected by the tragedy. Dozens of people gathered at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church of Turner Station during an emotional prayer vigil Tuesday evening.Faith leaders and city officials including Mayor Brandon Scott prayed for the families of those missing after the bridge collapse and the first responders working at the scene.“We can only imagine what is going through their minds and through their hearts and through their bodies. None of us want to experience that,” Scott said Tuesday. “We have to lift them up, support them not just today, not just tomorrow but for the foreseeable future.”Father Ako Walker, priest at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, said a prayer in Spanish to show solidarity with the six people who are still missing after the collapse. Following the vigil, Walker told reporters he has been providing support to family members whose loved ones are missing.“It’s difficult for them,” he said. “You know, you can see the pain etched on their faces. There’s a lot of tears.”

N'dea Yancey-Bragg

Will the Baltimore bridge collapse impact cruises?

Baltimore is a destination for several major cruise lines. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s leading trade group, published itineraries in the 2024 calendar year include a dozen ships making 115 stops in Baltimore.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival have April sailings that could be impacted by the bridge collapse, according to their websites.

Carnival told USA TODAY it was premature to comment on impacts to future sailings.

American Cruise Lines has roundtrip sailings from Baltimore scheduled in May, according to its website. The cruise line told USA TODAY their schedules remain unaffected but will make adjustments if needed to future cruises.

Norwegian Cruise Line doesn’t appear to have any Baltimore sailings until September.

– Eve Chen and Nathan Diller

Will the port shutdown affect consumer goods, prices?

Several big firms have distribution warehouses near the port, including Amazon and FedEx, one analyst noted in a tweet on X.

Even so, some analysts predict only a minimal impact on the movement of goods up and down the East Coast from the bridge collapse.

Baltimore’s port holds just 4% of all East Coast trade volume, according to S&P Global. New York’s port, by contrast, does 38% of that business.

Yet, the port offers the deepest harbor in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, is closer to the Midwest than any other East Coast port, and is within an overnight drive of one-third of the US population, according to the port website.

The port boasts five public and 12 private terminals. In 2023, it ranked first in the nation in handling automobiles and light trucks.

“For the American consumer, the biggest impact will be felt in terms of imported motor vehicles,” said Jason Miller, a business professor at Michigan State University. If sales remain strong, he said, “we could see inventories drop on the lots of dealers that sell imported vehicles until alternative arrangements can be made. This could increase motor vehicle prices for some makes and models.”

– Daniel de Visé

Alternate routes around collapsed Baltimore bridge

The Maryland Transportation Authority was suggesting drivers take Interstate 95 or Interstate 895 as alternatives to the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge along Interstate 695.

“I-695 Outer Loop closed at MD 10 (exit 2) and Inner Loop closed at MD 157/Peninsula Exp (exit 43),” MDTA said in a post on X.

Drivers could take several other, longer routes around Baltimore, but I-95 (Fort McHenry Tunnel) and I-895 (Baltimore Harbor Tunnel) are the most direct alternatives across the water.

There are few exceptions.

MDTA notes, vehicles carrying hazardous materials, including more than 10 pounds of propane, are not allowed in the tunnels. Additionally, vehicles more than 13-feet and 6-inches high or 8-feet wide may not use the 1-895 Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. Vehicles more than 14-feet and 6-inches high or 11-feet wide may not use the I-95 Fort McHenry Tunnel.

Those vehicles should use the western portion of I-695 instead.

Eve Chen

How cold is the Patapsco River?

The Patapsco River is about 50 feet deep where the ship hit the bridge, officials said during a press conference Tuesday morning. Part of the 39-mile river helps form the Baltimore Harbor, just northwest of the bridge collapse, and it flows out to the Chesapeake Bay.

A buoy in the Patapsco River indicated the water temperature Tuesday morning was currently about 47 degrees, while the air is around 41 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Whereas hypothermia is thought to occur at very cold temperatures, it can occur in waters below 70 degrees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Key Bridge collapse draws comparisons to Florida's Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapse

In 1980, a Florida bridge also collapsed after a ship collided with it, leading to the deaths of 35 motorists and bus passengers.

A 1,200-foot chunk of the Sunshine Skyway bridge – which connects St. Petersburg and Bradenton – collapsed after the massive Summit Venture freighter slammed into one of its central support piers.

When the section of the bridge fell into Tampa Bay, it took a truck, seven cars and a Greyhound bus with it.

The Herald-Tribune, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported the crash happened during an intense thunderstorm, with winds reaching 80 mph and heavy rain. At the time, visibility was near-zero, according to local historians who made a documentary film about the collapse.

After the collapse, the freighter remained stuck beneath the bridge, with part of the roadway on top of its bow. Photos from the time also show how one motorist was able to skip his car to a stop just inches away from where the bridge fell into the water.

-Claire Thornton

How vital is the Francis Scott Key Bridge?

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, named for the author of the "Star Spangled Banner," is a 1.6-mile, 4-lane bridge that crosses over the Patapsco River, according to the MDTA. It opened in 1977.

The port’s private and public terminals handled 847,158 autos and light trucks in 2023, the most of any U.S. port. The port also handles farm and construction machinery, sugar, gypsum and coal, according to a Maryland government website.

Police close a stretch of I-695 on the north end of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, a major span over the Patapsco River in Baltimore which collapsed after it was struck by a Singapore-flagged container ship 'Dali'.
Police close a stretch of I-695 on the north end of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, a major span over the Patapsco River in Baltimore which collapsed after it was struck by a Singapore-flagged container ship 'Dali'.

The span is the outermost of three major Patapsco River crossings at Baltimore Harbor, according to the American Civil Engineering Society. The steel-arched bridge, with a total length of 8,636 feet, was the second-longest continuous-truss bridge span in the world when it was built and remains the second longest in the United States and third in the world, according to the society.

Contributing: Reuters; Tom Vanden Brook, Eduardo Cuevas, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baltimore Key Bridge collapse: Search halted, workers presumed dead