Baltimore Key Bridge collapse: six missing now presumed dead, police say

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Maryland state police say the six people who were missing after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, are now presumed dead.

Related: How Baltimore’s Key Bridge collapsed – a visual guide

Authorities said the accident sent a number of vehicles and eight construction workers into the Patapsco River. Two people were rescued on Tuesday, but Jeffrey Pritzker, a senior executive at Brawner Builders, the employer of the construction workers, said the other six were presumed dead, given the water’s depth and the length of time since the crash.

Maryland officials are in agreement and say that the recovery effort will continue on Wednesday morning with a team of divers.

Pritzker said the crew had been working in the middle of the bridge when it came apart. No bodies have been recovered.

“This was so completely unforeseen,” Pritzker said. “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 flaggers. But we never foresaw that the bridge would collapse.”

All 22 crewmembers onboard the Dali, the ship that struck the bridge, were reported safe.

The White House said Joe Biden had spoken to federal, state and local officials as part of the continuing response to the collapse of the bridge.

Those officials included Pete Buttigieg, the US secretary of transportation; Wes Moore, the Democratic governor of Maryland; the two Democratic US senators from Maryland, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin; and the mayor of Baltimore, Brandon Scott.

Moore told reporters the bridge, which was built in 1977, was “fully up to code” before being struck by the ship.

However, the same ship that struck the bridge was involved in an incident in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, in 2016, when it hit a quay as it tried to exit the North Sea container terminal.

A later inspection of the Dali on 27 June carried out in San Antonio, Chile, found the vessel had “propulsion and auxiliary machinery” deficiencies, according to data on the public Equasis website, which provides information on ships. The inspection specified that there was a deficiency related to gauges and thermometers. A spokesperson for the Dali’s owners declined to comment on the report.

Calls to 911 came in at about 1.30am, reporting a vessel travelling outbound from Baltimore that had struck a column on the bridge, causing it to collapse, said Kevin Cartwright, the director of communications for the Baltimore fire department. Several vehicles were on the bridge at the time, including one the size of a tractor-trailer.

Officials said the ship issued a mayday as it went off course and seemed to lose power, which Baltimore officials said allowed them to prevent more vehicles from coming on to the bridge. The ship then appeared to catch fire as part of the bridge collapsed over it, sending plumes of thick, black smoke into the air.

The temperature in the river was about 47F (8C) in the early hours of Tuesday, according to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

From a vantage point near the entrance to the bridge, jagged remnants of its steel frame were visible protruding from the water, with the on-ramp ending abruptly where the span once began.

“All lanes closed both directions for incident on I-695 Key Bridge. Traffic is being detoured,” the Maryland transportation authority posted on X. “I-695 Key Bridge collapse due to ship strike. Active scene,” it later added.

Related: Have you been affected by the Baltimore bridge collapse?

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Biden said on Tuesday afternoon: “Everything so far indicates that this was a terrible accident. At this time, we have no other indication. No other reason to believe there’s any intentional act here.”

Biden pledged that the US federal government would pay the full cost of rebuilding the bridge in Baltimore, which has also halted activity at a major port for the country.

“It’s my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge and I expect the Congress to support my effort,” the US president said.

A reporter from the Baltimore Banner said that the half-dozen people who had been presumed missing were construction workers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico who were in their 30s and 40s, with spouses and children.

“All of them came to the city for a better life … not necessarily for themselves, but for the loved ones they left behind in their home countries,” the Banner’s reporter wrote.

“They are all hard-working, humble men,” said Jesús Campos, who described himself as a co-worker of the victims.

Biden, meanwhile, pledged to travel to Baltimore soon. “We’re not leaving until this job is done,” he said.

Asked why the government should pay and not Grace Ocean, the owners of the Singapore-registered ship, Biden said: “That could be, but we’re not going to wait for that to happen. We’re going to pay for it to get the bridge rebuilt and opened.”

The president then left Washington for a campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina. Buttigieg was due to travel to Baltimore promptly.