U.S. Coast Guard Leading Rescue Effort Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse (Updated)

The U.S. Coast Guard is leading a multi-agency search-and-rescue effort following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the Patapsco River in Baltimore, Maryland. The incident occurred in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and has been described by officials as a “mass casualty event.” The Coast Guard and other agencies are currently searching for as many as 20 individuals, and at least two survivors have been rescued.

According to the Coast Guard, it is currently “coordinating with local, state, and federal agencies” in its response to the incident. “Coast Guard watchstanders received a report into the Coast Guard Sector Maryland – National Capital Region command center at 1:27 A.M. reporting a 948-foot Singapore-flagged containership collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge,” the service said, striking one of the bridge’s supports and causing it to collapse. The shipping vessel in question — which caught fire as a result of the collision — has subsequently been identified as MV Dali, which is affiliated with the Danish logistics company Maersk.

According to Coast Guard LtCdr. Aaron Palmer, who spoke at a multi-agency news conference earlier this morning, three “small [Coast Guard] boats” as well as the 87-foot USCGC Mako (WPB-87303) are on scene for active search and rescue, following reports of “persons in the water.”

In addition to said boat crews, the Coast Guard also deployed an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to aid in the response. Flight tracking information for that aircraft shows it conducting a search pattern over the water northwest of the bridge.

Flight tracking data showing the search pattern of the USCG’s MH-65 from earlier today. ADS-B Exchange

While the exact makeup of the search and rescue assets in the area remains difficult to pinpoint precisely, Maryland State Police and Baltimore County Police helicopters have also been spotted flying close to the incident site.

So far, the U.S. Navy has not been tasked with aiding in the search-and-rescue efforts, a Navy spokeswoman told USNI News earlier this morning.

Following the establishment of a 2000-yard safety zone around the incident site, vessel traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore was subsequently closed, the Port of Baltimore’s website states, although the facility remains open to trucks. The impact of the incident is already being felt, with numerous container ships reportedly waiting at anchor outside the Port of Baltimore. From here, the problem is likely to be a longer-term issue for both commercial shipping and commuter travel; with the collapsed bridge shutting off entry to the port for ships and denying access to key commuter roadways surrounding Baltimore.

According to Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace, who spoke at the aforementioned news conference, at least two individuals have already been rescued. One was reportedly in good condition. The other was seriously injured, leading to their admission to a local trauma center.

The exact number of missing individuals remains murky. Wallace notes that rescuers are looking for “upwards of seven individuals,” with search efforts being conducted on and in the water, as well as on the ship’s deck. However, Kevin Cartwright, spokesperson for Baltimore City Fire Department, told Reuters earlier today that up to 20 individuals could still be in the river, in addition to “numerous vehicles, and possibly a tractor-trailer or a vehicle as large as a tractor-trailer, (that) went into the river.”

The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of the container ship Dali after the bridge collapsed, Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, 2024. Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP
Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP

An undisclosed number of workers were also on the bridge at the time of the accident, whose fates are currently unknown, Maryland Secretary of Transportation Paul Wiedefeld told reporters.

The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge lies in the water after it collapsed in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, 2024. Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP

However, given the catastrophic nature of the collapse, as well as the frigid temperatures of the Patapsco River at this time of year, the incident constitutes “a mass-casualty event” Cartwright said. Before dawn this morning, the water temperature was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) according to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Associated Press reports.

“This operation is going to extend for many days.” Cartwright further noted.

Speaking to reporters at this morning’s news conference, Wes Moore, Maryland’s governor (D), stated that the reason for the incident was due to a loss of power aboard MV Dali prior to its collision with the bridge, with crew members issuing a warning that power was lost. Dali was traveling at eight knots (9 miles per hour) when it hit one of the bridge’s supports, the governor noted.

Footage captured during the collision appears to suggest that loss of power was experienced multiple times before impact, although this has not been confirmed officially.

Moore also said that there were no known structural weaknesses associated with the bridge prior to the incident and that it was “fully up to code.”

So far, all the evidence available points to this being an accident, Moore stipulated. FBI Baltimore has made clear earlier today that “there is no specific and credible information to suggest any ties to terrorism at this time. The investigation is ongoing. FBI Baltimore will continue to support our partners at the local, state, and federal levels.”

This is a developing story. We will update this post with more information as it becomes available.

UPDATE, 3:06 P.M. EST

Following a briefing with senior members of his team, President Joe Biden delivered short remarks this afternoon on the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. During his speech, the president said he expects the Federal government to “pay the entire cost” of its reconstruction, and that he hopes the bridge will be rebuilt and open again “as soon as humanly possible.”

The president also praised officials who were able to stop traffic from passing over the bridge prior to MV Dali’s impact, thanks to personnel on board the ship alerting the Maryland Department of Transportation that they had lost control of their vessel, “which undoubtedly saved lives.”

Authorities have confirmed they are searching for six construction workers who had been fixing potholes on the bridge at the time of the incident. Two have already been rescued. 

Recently released satellite imagery shows the extent of the devastation from above. 

Image © Planet Labs PBC

Contact the author: oliver@thewarzone.com

Oliver Parken

Associate Editor

Oli’s background is in the cultural and military history of twentieth-century Britain. Before joining The War Zone team in early in 2022, he was Assistant Lecturer at the University of Kent's Center for the History of War, Media and Society in the U.K., where he completed his PhD in 2021. Alongside his contributions to The War Zone's military history catalog, he also covers contemporary topics and breaking news.

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