Search for 6 missing construction workers turns to recovery mission after bridge collapse

A search and rescue mission for a six-person construction crew working on the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has transitioned to a recovery mission, officials said on March 26, following the harrowing collapse of the bridge after it was struck by a container ship earlier that day.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said on TODAY on March 27 he had met with the families of the six victims of the collapse, who were part of a construction crew working on potholes on the bridge.

“The commitment that I made to the families was that we would put every possible resource towards a search and rescue mission,” Moore said. “But now that we transition to a recovery mission, I’m going to make sure that we’re gonna put every possible resource to bring a sense of closure to these families.”

Moore said “early indications” showed authorities were able to notify the construction workers of the incoming container ship, a 985-foot vessel called Dali registered under a Singaporean flag, and that officials were able to stop traffic from crossing the bridge shortly before the ship collided with it.

“These first responders who moved to both alert people who were there on the bridge, and then also be able to stop the traffic flow — this was true heroism,” Moore said. “When we say that that we are we are Maryland tough, and we are Baltimore strong … that exemplifies that with these first responders.”

He added: “The fact that they were able to get cars off of the bridge and move cars off of the bridge — they saved countless lives that night. And so we’re incredibly thankful for the work that they did.” 

On March 26, officials said a mayday call was issued before a container ship struck a pillar of the bridge — a decision Moore said “saved lives” during a press conference ahead of the bridge’s collapse.

The crew on the vessel were able to notify authorities of a power issue and that they had lost power on the ship, which alerted officials who were able to stop some vehicles from crossing the bridge before the ship collided with it, Moore said.

“Once notification came up that there was a mayday, literally by being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge,” Moore said during the press conference. “These people are heroes. They saved lives.”

The ship was traveling at about eight knots, which Moore described as “a very rapid speed.”

Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse
A helicopter flies over a container ship as it rests against wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, as seen from Pasadena, Maryland.Mark Schiefelbein / AP

Moore said on TODAY that authorities are investigating what led to the container ship’s power outage ahead of the collision, as well as what happened in the aftermath.

The Wall Street Journal reported investigators are looking into whether contaminated fuel, among other leads, played a role in the ship losing control, citing people familiar with the matter.

The Port of Baltimore, a major shipping hub for the country, was shut down indefinitely in the wake of the collapse.

“The economic consequences, they cannot be overstated. And not just for the state of Maryland — we’re talking about what this means for the entire country,” Moore said. “We’re talking about a port that brings on more cars, more trucks, more agricultural equipment than any other port in this country.”

The governor said that because the Port of Baltimore is one of the largest ports for international cargo, with “over 51 million tons of foreign cargo” coming through it, its closure “is going to have enormous economic impacts.”

“And it’s the reason that we’re so focused on making sure we get this done right, and get it on quickly to be able to restore this bridge,” he said.

When asked about a specific timeline to rebuild the bridge, Moore did not offer specifics but stressed it would be “a complicated effort” due to the “mangled metal underwater.”

“This is going to be complicated, it is going to be long and we know that we are going to need the support of everybody on board to be able to get it to completion,” he said. “But we are going to get this done.”

Recovery mission for six construction workers

Emergency personnel had rescued two people on March 26, one in good condition and who refused treatment, while the second was seriously injured and was being treated in a local trauma center, Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said during a press conference.

On Tuesday evening, Jeffrey Pritzker, executive vice president of Brawner Builders, told NBC News in a phone interview that six of its workers were presumed dead, and officials later confirmed the search and rescue would be transitioned to a recovery mission.

Maryland Secretary of Transportation Paul Wiedefeld said a crew was working on repairing potholes on the bridge around the time of the collision, and that the repairs didn’t have to do with the structural integrity of the bridge.

The bridge was “fully up to code” at the time of the incident, Moore said, adding authorities were still investigating the cause of the impact and collapse. The incident appeared to be an accident and there were no signs of terrorism, Moore said.

“To hear the words that the Key Bridge has collapsed, it’s shocking and heartbreaking,” Moore said.

“For every single one of us who are Marylanders, the words that the Key Bridge is gone — it still shakes us because for over for 47 years, that’s all we’ve known,” he added.

Dramatic video of the incident showed smoke coming from the ship as it collided with a pillar supporting the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which carries Interstate 695 over the Patapsco River south of Baltimore, and a livestream video showed vehicles crossing the bridge just before impact.

Baltimore executive says Key Bridge collapse is ‘an absolute tragedy’

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski called the collapse an “absolute tragedy” and “shock” on TODAY around 7:05 a.m., and said the bridge has been an active scene of activity for emergency responders and other city and state agencies since the bridge collapsed.

“Our primary efforts are around search and rescue right now,” Olszewski said. “We have the sun coming up so we can start having our dive teams go in. We’re not just doing the surface searches, but we are actively on this scene.”

Ship monitoring website MarineTraffic showed a Singapore-flagged container ship called the Dali stopped under the bridge.
The steel frame of a portion of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of a container ship after it struck the bridge in Baltimore on March 26, 2024.Roberto Schmidt / AFP – Getty Images

Underwater drones showed there were vehicles in the river, Wallace said, but authorities said Tuesday that they do not believe anyone was inside those vehicles.

“The best information we have is that the ship, for whatever reason, whether it’s power, or other reason, lost control, ran into the supporting beam of the bridge, which unfortunately caused it to collapse,” Olszewski said on TODAY.

There is an active investigation into the cause of the collapse, in addition to the active search and rescue for survivors, Olszewski said.

“We know those answers will come forward, but it’s an absolute tragedy,” he said. “Our efforts are focused on the search and rescue right now as we try to determine both next steps for traffic for commerce, but really right now our hearts go out to and our thoughts and prayers are with those individuals and families who were affected by this collapse.”

When did the ship hit the Francis Scott Key Bridge?

The U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement to NBC News it received a report that a “motor vessel made impact with the bridge” around 1:27 a.m. ET, and confirmed the ship was a vessel named Dali registered under a Singaporean flag.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge lies in the water, following an impact from a cargo ship.
The Dali vessel after it struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge.Baltimore City Fire Department / Rescue 1

Shipping company Maersk said in a statement to NBC News Dali was operated by another company, Synergy Group, which it had charted to transport its customers’ cargo.

“We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected,” a spokesperson for Maersk said.

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon the NTSB was leading the investigation into the 985-foot vessel’s collision with the bridge, and the Coast Guard would provide support.

“Before I go on, on behalf of the NTSB, I want to extend our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this significant event,” Homendy said. “A search and rescue is still underway, so we are very hopeful. And again our thoughts are with the families and their loved ones.”

Homendy confirmed to NBC News on March 27 the NTSB had recovered the ship’s voyage data recorder, which would play a vital role in the board’s investigation.

Biden says he’s directing his team ‘to move heaven and Earth’ to reopen port, rebuild bridge

President Joe Biden addressed reporters before 1 p.m. ET about the morning’s “terrible incident” in Baltimore. Biden, who previously represented Delaware for 36 years in the Senate, began by saying he has been over the Key Bridge “many, many times” before.

He reaffirmed the information from officials earlier in the day that estimates eight people were impacted by the collapse and that six of those individuals are still missing: one person remains in critical condition and the other was not seriously injured and denied treatment. He said the search and rescue operation remains underway.

Biden said he will send “all the federal resources” to help.

“We’re going to rebuild that port together,” he added.

Biden also said ship traffic through the Port of Baltimore has been suspended until further notice.

He explained that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is there now and that he has directed his team to “move heaven and Earth” so that the port can reopen and the bridge can be rebuilt. Biden also said he expects Congress to support his effort.

“It’s my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge,” he said.

A reporter later asked about the federal government paying despite the ship appearing to be at fault and if the company behind the ship should be responsible.

“That could be, but we’re not going to wait for that to happen,” Biden answered.

“We’re going to pay for it to get the bridge rebuilt and open.”

He also said he plans to go to Baltimore “as quickly” as he can.