Chilling audio reveals scramble to clear Baltimore bridge before collapse

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Baltimore bridge collapse: Dispatch audio released of harrowing moment
Officers of the Maryland Transport Authority Police Dispatch and Response can be heard stopping traffic and inquiring about crew members working on the bridge before it collapsed when a container ship struck it, in an audio recording released – Mar 27, 2024

Audio from the moments before a massive cargo ship smashed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge reveals how little time first responders had to stop traffic before the bridge collapsed.

The call, between several first responders, paints a dramatic picture of how quickly the incident happened.

“Hold all traffic on the Key Bridge. … There’s a ship approaching that just lost their steering so until we get that under control, we’ve got to stop all traffic,” one official is heard saying, warning of the incoming disaster.

“Make sure no one’s on the bridge right now. There’s a crew up there. … You might want to notify the foreman to see if we can get them off the bridge temporarily.”

Another voice is heard, saying he was about to drive onto the bridge to “grab the workers,” but at that point it was too late, and the vessel plowed into a support pillar.

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The Dali container vessel after striking the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore that collapsed into the Patapsco River on Tuesday. Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The next voice is heard saying: “The whole bridge just fell down. Start, start whoever … everybody. The whole bridge just collapsed.”

Seconds later, a dispatcher alerted officers to stop all traffic on Interstate 695, a freeway that runs through the heavily industrial areas around the port.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore hailed the first responders for their quick thinking.

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“Literally by being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes,” Moore said Tuesday. “They saved lives last night.”

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“We’re thankful that between the mayday and the collapse, we had officials who were able to begin to stop the flow of traffic, so more cars were not up on the bridge,” he added.

Crew aboard the Dali vessel were able to issue a mayday call in the middle of the night as the ship barrelled toward the bridge at a “very, very rapid speed,” Moore said.

As soon as the boat struck the support pillar, it crumpled, its span plunging into the water below and crushing part of the Dali, causing the vessel to catch fire.

Six people, all part of a construction crew filling potholes on the bridge at the time of impact, remain unaccounted for Wednesday and are presumed dead, given the water’s depth, temperature and length of time since the crash.

Parts of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore remain after a container ship collided with one of the bridge’s supports Tuesday. WJLA via AP

Multiple vehicles also went into the water, though authorities did not believe anyone was inside them.

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Rescuers pulled two people out of the water shortly after the impact. One person was treated at a hospital and discharged hours later.

All crew members and the two pilots on board the Dali were accounted for, and there were no reports of any injuries.

Donald Heinbuch, a retired chief with Baltimore’s fire department, said he was startled awake by a deep rumbling that shook his house for several seconds. “It felt like an earthquake,” he said.

He drove to the river’s edge and couldn’t believe what he saw.

A Coast Guard cutter passes by a cargo ship that is stuck under the part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore after the ship hit the bridge Tuesday. AP Photo / Steve Helber

“The ship was there, and the bridge was in the water, like it was blown up,” he said.

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Federal and state officials said the crash appeared to be an accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, and ship traffic entering and leaving the Port of Baltimore was suspended indefinitely.

With files from The Associated Press

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