Baltimore Key bridge collapse: Six missing construction workers presumed dead as search suspended

The search for six workers missing after a container ship crashed into a bridge in Maryland has been suspended, with authorities saying that there was no hope of finding them alive in what is a “terrible, unanticipated tragedy”.

The six men, all members of a construction crew employed by Brawner Builders, remain missing after a huge cargo ship slammed into Baltimore’s Key Bridge, causing it to dramatically collapse into the water.

The men were working on refilling potholes when the incident occurred.

Jeffrey Pritzker, executive vice president of Brawner Builders, told The Baltimore Banner that he does not believe the workers could have survived the shocking incident.

“We’re presuming that they are not alive, because they were thrown into the bay in an area that’s 50 feet deep, with 46-degree temperature, probably buried under tons of steel,” Mr Pritzker said.

“The company is in mourning and it’s a terrible, unanticipated tragedy.”

Miguel Luna (Supplied)
Miguel Luna (Supplied)

As the Coast Guard announced that the rescue will now turn into a recovery effort for bodies, loved ones of the missing workers have started to identify them; some are fathers, husbands, and all have been described as hard-working men.

Miguel Luna from El Salvador was the first of the six men to be named. He was working on the bridge at the time of the catastrophic collapse.

His wife told Telemundo 44 earlier on Tuesday that she was “devastated”.

“[We feel] devastated, devastated because our heart is broken, because we don’t know if they’ve rescued them yet. We’re just waiting to hear any news,” she told the outlet.

Another man, a father of two from Honduras, was also named by family members as Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, according to CNN.

Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval (Supplied)
Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval (Supplied)

He had been living in the United States for over 18 years, was married, and had an 18-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter, his brother Martin Suazo told the outlet.

Other workers are believed to be from Guatemala and Mexico, officials said.

Two other people were fished out of the water alive, say officials, one who had suffered severe injuries and one who was uninjured.

The Coast Guard told reporters at a Tuesday evening press conference that the search was paused at 7.30pm ET, and would resume on Wednesday morning as a recovery effort with divers being used to search for bodies.

“I’d like to announce tonight that based on the length of time that we’ve gone in this search, the extensive search efforts we’ve put into it, the water temperature, that at this point we do not believe that we’re going to find any of these individuals still alive,” said Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath.

Brawner Builders employee Jesus Campos told The Baltimore Banner that the still missing individuals are all men in their 30s and 40s — who have children and spouses. They are from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, he added.

“They are all hard-working, humble men,” Mr Campos told the outlet.

Multiple workers and vehicles were on the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the Patapsco River when the Dali vessel ploughed into a support pillar at around 1.30am ET on Tuesday.

The ship’s crew made a mayday call just moments before the collision. Maryland Gov Wes Moore added that the call saved lives, providing time to prevent cars from continuing on the bridge.

The crew warned the Maryland Department of Transportation that a collision with the bridge “was possible,” the report said. “The vessel struck the bridge causing a complete collapse.”

It’s still unclear what caused the accident, which happened just 30 minutes after the ship set sail on its 27-day journey to Sri Lanka.

Harrowing footage captured the bridge crumpling into the freezing waters.

As of Tuesday early afternoon, two people had so far been pulled from the waters, Baltimore police said.

One of those victims is now fighting for their life in hospital after being rushed to a trauma unit in serious condition.

The second person was not injured and refused medical help, police said.

The number of those unaccounted for could climb higher as sonar has detected multiple vehicles submerged in the frigid river while officials have learned that workers were also on the bridge at the time of the crash.

A helicopter flies over the scene of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland (REUTERS)
A helicopter flies over the scene of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland (REUTERS)

At the press conference, James Wallace, the fire chief from the Baltimore City Fire Department, said the search involves a “very large incident and large footprint”.

As well as the cold temperatures, search teams were also grappling with darkness and a large debris field to try and search for people who would have now been in the water for an extended period of time.

Chief Wallace told CNN that agencies found three passenger vehicles, a cement truck and another vehicle submerged in the water using infrared and side-scan sonar technology.

Gov Moore declared a state of emergency, adding that he is working with an interagency team to deploy federal resources.

Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the fire department, said the city was dealing with a “developing mass casualty incident”.

A State of Emergency has been declared by Maryland’s governor after the tragic collapse (EPA)
A State of Emergency has been declared by Maryland’s governor after the tragic collapse (EPA)

A large portion of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is now underwater, as flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed the Maryland State Police circling the site of the crash in a helicopter.

Mr Cartwright added that a multi-agency rescue is currently underway, with dive team members actively going into the river to try and locate individuals that are feared to be in the water.

The US Coast Guard said it has deployed small boats and helicopters to assist in the search for the people feared within the water.

Yet freezing conditions are “posing a concern” as the rescue personnel continue to carry out their search.

Upwards of seven people are still missing as rescue efforts continue (Harford County, MD Volunteer Fire & EMS/PA Wire)
Upwards of seven people are still missing as rescue efforts continue (Harford County, MD Volunteer Fire & EMS/PA Wire)

“It feels like at least about 30 degrees (-1°C) where I am,” Mr Cartwright told CNN. “It could be slightly lower than that. And I’m sure that the water temperature is even colder... And that can pose a concern and risk for our divers.”

The container ship involved is a Singapore-flagged vessel named Dali, live maritime data showed on Tuesday. It had just departed the port in Baltimore and was headed for the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, where it was due to arrive in late April.

All crew members, including two pilots, on the container ship are accounted for and uninjured, the owners have confirmed in a statement.

Officials said that there is no indication that terrorism could have been involved in the incident.

“There is absolutely no indication that there’s any terrorism, that this was done on purpose,” Chief Richard Worley said.

President Joe Biden reassured Americans that all signs point toward the collapse being a “terrible accident,” and that no terrorism was involved. Mr Biden vowed to use federal funds to rebuild the bridge. The president promised to “move heaven and earth” to reopen the bridge, which more than 30,000 vehicles cross every day. He called it “one of the most important elements” of the economy and quality of life in the Northeast corridor.

He added that 15,000 jobs depend on that port, which 850,000 vehicles go through every year.

United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said on X that he had spoken with mayor Scott and governor Moore to offer the Department of Transportation’s support following the collapse of the bridge.