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Baltimore Bridge Collapses After Being Struck By Ship. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt, live in Washington, D.C.

And we do begin this hour with major breaking news overnight. A bridge in Baltimore collapsing after it was hit by a large ship. You can see that happening there. Video from that live-stream shows the moment of impact with the Francis Scott Key Bridge which then crumbles into the water. This happened around 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time overnight.

Officials say that multiple cars fell into the Patapsco River below. Right now, rescue crews are searching for at least seven people. One official called the collapse a quote, developing mass casualty event.

CNN's Gabe Cohen has been dispatched to Baltimore. He joins us on the phone and route to the scene.

Gabe, good morning to you. What do we know at this hour?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes. So, Kasie, is you mentioned at this hour we have confirmed that this shipping container, a couple of hours ago around 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time collided with it appears to a column of the Key Bridge. That's along the Interstate 695 here in Baltimore.

It is a critical bridge if you live in Washington in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, as you drive through the region, it gets a lot of traffic and as we understand it, there may have been according to the fire department, a little bit of low visibility when the shipping container collided with the column. We don't know exactly what went wrong, but according to emergency crews they're looking for potentially 20 people in Patapsco River at this hour.

We don't know the latest on any potential injuries, but it's a fairly frantic scene. I can tell you were in the area around Baltimore, not far from the bridge. But first responders have that entire area around Interstate 695, around the Key Bridge are locked down. We're seeing crews flying by us, there are a lot of different departments that seemed to have responded to this.

We know that different federal agencies are involved both in the search. They're trying to rescue people who were in the water. We just don't have much of an update at this hour, Kasie, on how they're doing. But we know the Patapsco River this time of year might be 45 degrees or so according to some of the data we're seeing online. And so it would be a really urgent search to reach people who might have one to three hours in water temperature, that cold as, as crews tried to rescue them

HUNT: So, Gabe, we were speaking earlier on our air with the spokesman for the Baltimore City Fire Department. And he talked about divers being in that water. You mentioned how cold it was. He also said that there was a vehicle that was the -- they're not sure exactly what it was, but it was the size of a tractor trailer. He said.

And I also want to point out to everyone that's joining us. Its obviously still very dark outside this happen overnight, but these are live aerials from WJLA that we are now able to see of the bridge. And again, we can see this collapse because there was a livestream of it at, at the time.

Gabe, I also want to just bring to everyone and to you this, this news just in and cleared by our teams who are working on this story. We are now reporting that the cargo ship that struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore was a Singaporean flagged container ship called the Dali, according to data from a maritime tracking website. That website does show the ship stopped in Baltimore surrounded by a first response boats.

There was a petty officer of first-class for the coast guard in Baltimore, Matthew West, who also told "The New York Times" that this was the ship that stuck to that struck the bridge and we have reached out to the Coast Guard.


The ship had a length of about 300 meters. That's 984 feet. It was 157 feet wide.

And when you do watch that video, you can see this ship again, 100 57 feet wide, striking that support column. You see it there on the left- hand side of your screen, its strikes that column directly and you just watch that bridge collapse in into the river.

Gave, we're obviously as you've been careful to note, we forgot a reports of at least seven and people in the water. It has been described as a mass casualty event here in terms of the responders, what does it been like for you trying to get access to? I know you said that that first responders have this cutoff pretty well.

What are you hearing in terms of their plans to communicate with you to let us have access to the scene, if anything, at this hour?

COHEN: Well, Kasie, it's not totally clear right now. As I mentioned, they really have the area locked down as were still seeing those crews coming in and out. And look, this is a really industrial area. Shipping containers are constantly coming in and out there are a lot of these ports and shipyards along the water, along the Patapsco River as you head into Baltimore.

So it's not an area where there are a lot of homes along the water right here. This is a lot of industrial space and so we're not really sure at what point we're going to get much access to this because as you can tell from the aerials and the video, that's emerged of the collapse, this is really a disaster zone right now. This is a serious seen where they are still working on the acute crisis, which is rescuing people out of the water as you said, we've heard seven, we've also heard up to 20 from fire crews.

And so, they I think are very focused on that right now, and they are trying to keep everybody out because it's still quite an urgent scene.

HUNT: No, of course. So, Gabe, just to bring everyone up to speed, who may be just joining us here. This again, is the Francis Scott Key Bridge outside, it's in Baltimore Maryland. It's the outermost crossing of the Baltimore harbor. So ships that are coming in from the Chesapeake Bay, this would be the first bridge that they would go underneath on their way in to Baltimore harbor.

There you can see it on your screen. That's the map. That's also the road. It's called 695 here in this area. It's known as the Baltimore Beltway and it runs in a circle around the city of Baltimore.

It's really an essential traffic link according to the Transit Authority in Maryland, it carries about 11 million people over the course of the year was opened in March of 1977. It's named for the author of the Star Spangled Banner, and you of course may remember that that was written in Baltimore.

And so, this is you know, the history of this -- this bridge, the events that took place here, of course, is this critical transit link.

Now, if you look on the right of your screen, this is a live picture that we're getting in from an affiliate. You can see the ship is still there. And these sort of emergency responders have noted that there are some containers that are still its difficult to see in this picture because the sun obviously is not up yet, but there are some of these containers hanging in a way that is making this a very difficult scene for first responders who, of course, have to be very, very careful in how they are approaching this.

Now, again, Gabe, we're just learning early details about the ship itself as I said, a little bit earlier, its a Singaporean flagged ship the Dali, I think its important for people to understand that its very common to see ships of this size, container ships coming and going. If you're driving on these roads in the Baltimore area, this is not an unusual situation or site by any means, it's something that is routine only navigated safely by ships of this size and magnitude.

I do think, you know, one thing people have been pointing out, Gabe, is that it did seem to hit the support structure dead on in a way that caused the immediate and basically total collapse of the span.

COHEN: Right. And I think it raises a lot of questions like we've heard fire crews say it been there may as though there may have been low visibility at the time when this happened.


But based on the video that is really a stunning video of the moment and with the bridge collapses, you can see it pretty clearly and you can see the harbor pretty clearly. Now, what that visibility looked like from inside the ship. We don't know.

And I think there are definitely a lot of questions because this is an area where coming in and out of the harbor in Baltimore, it's extremely common for large ships to be coming in and out this these container ships are used to this area. So we don't know what went wrong here and what could have caused one of them to drive, it appears, directly into one of the columns. And create this mass casualty event.

Again, the video shows sort of a snippet of what happened here. And we may get additional video, additional information and that sort of changes things. But naturally, there are a lot of questions case as you're laying out here where in an area where this is so common to see such a devastating disaster on a bridge. That's carrying commuters and travelers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So I think that's something were hoping to learn from fire crews and police here in the coming hours but as I mentioned before, as you've mentioned. They're describing this as a mass casualty events. And there's a real urgency to it at the moment. So I think those are questions that they're going to wait an answer when it's right.

HUNT: For sure, Gabe. And again, let's just pause here for a second and bring everyone up to speed because we did speak with Kevin Cartwright of the Baltimore city fire department on our air here about a half an hour ago, 40 minutes ago or so, and he did update us too, as you point out, call the same mass casualty multi-agency incident.

He said that there may be up to 20 individuals in the Patapsco River, which is the name of this body of water at this point where the bridge crosses, as well as he says multiple -- multiple vehicles in the water as well. And again, as we noted at the ship, and you can see it live on the darker picture you're seeing on the right side of your screen is live video. On the left side of your screen, what you're seeing is, the moment that this bridge collapsed at about 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time overnight and you can see that it hit on the way down the top of these piles of containers that the ship was carrying.

And that those containers are now presenting hazards to these teams that are trying to rescue people in the river.

Mr. Cartwright, again, the Baltimore Fire Department representative, did also tell us that there are divers in the water, right now trying to conduct these rescues. We've also seen on social media that there are volunteer fire departments, for example, from Harford County, which is a neighboring -- neighboring county to Baltimore County.

Heading to the scene really underscores your -- your point, Gabe, that this is a real all hands on deck type of situation as -- I mean, this is really kind of a once in a lifetime event for a city like Baltimore, that something like this, what unfold.

And again, to give people some contexts, this is used by 11 million people over the year per year. This bridge, it's a major route for commuters in this major metropolitan area that Baltimore, Washington consists of.

And the bridge is actually located, so it's named for Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star Spangled Banner". It's -- it crosses within 100 yards of the site where Key watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry in September of 1814. And, of course, it's that battle that inspired him to write the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner", that's again within view. You can see Fort McHenry off in the distance when you drive across this bridge, which I have personally done many times in my life.

Gabe, let's just start again from the top as more and more people join in with us and learn about this as they find themselves waking up. Let's just walk through what we know about what happened early this morning and where things stand now.

COHEN: Yes. So, Kasie, according to authorities, this all happen around 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time here in Baltimore. A large shipping container at that hour, it appears based on the videos that we've seen, collided and hearing from authorities that shipping container collided with the -- one of the columns of the Key Bridge in Baltimore.


It is, as you mentioned, a major commuter bridge major route. As you cut through Baltimore, going between let's say, Washington and New York, all the way up the northeast. And it appears that in the bridge collapsed. You can see it in the video, crumble into several pieces, and authorities think that there are potentially up to 20 people in the water.

They don't. As you mentioned, there was some sort of large tractor trailers size vehicle on the bridge at the time, but that is what emergency crews are now looking for, anyone who is in vehicles or in the water that may have ended up down in the Patapsco River. First responders have been there at the scene. They were calling it a mass casualty event and there was an urgent search right now, urgent rescue for any people who could be there in the water and right now, the entire area around the bridges shut down. There are crews not only from Baltimore, but from surrounding agencies, from federal agencies that are assisting with this because this is a very, very serious incident. And serious rescue operation that's now underway.

As I mentioned before, we arrived in Baltimore a little while ago, were probably about a quarter mile from the bridge at this point, but the area is shut down. Police get down the road. There are only wedding those first responder vehicles understandably come in and out of because the water there in the Patapsco River is roughly 48 degrees based on some of the data that we've found online. It's cold water, people who end up submerged in that water would likely have one to three hours where they could survive in temperatures like that. And so, crews are desperately trying to get people out as quickly as

possible, just doing the rough math it has been roughly three-and-a- half hours since this all started, Kasie, and so really for the crews, if they believe at this hour, which we think they do that, there could still be people in the water, the clock is really ticking. And so they have divers in the water. They are trying to locate people.

We know that the mayor, Brandon Scott, tweeted out a couple of hours ago that this was a significant event that, he was on route to it, that the governor of Maryland was aware as well, and that they were working with these various other agencies to work on this rescue operation.

Obviously, the sun is sun to come up here in Baltimore. Its going to be another day for commuters where this is going to create the serious problems across this area here in Baltimore and have implications all the way likely from D.C. up to the Philadelphia area and maybe even beyond that, but that's really forward thinking at this point, right now, the focus on this is on this desperate rescue operation to locate people who might be in the water after this shipping container collided with the Key Bridge and sent it crashing down.

HUNT: Yeah. No, absolute critical to focus on that, at this point.

And, Gabe, we also have this just in the secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg, says that he's talked with the governor of Maryland, Wes Moore, and with a mayor of Baltimore, Mayor Scott, to offer federal support from the Department of Transportation after this incident. He says rescue efforts remain underway.

Drivers he notes in the Baltimore area should follow local responder guidance on detours and the response. And as we said, Kevin Cartwright, who is with the Baltimore fire department, says that they are searching for up to 20 people who may be in the river, right now along with multiple vehicles.

I'm just going to ask our control room to put up. We have some still images of the scene of the aftermath of the scene that are a little bit but brighter that we can perhaps there we go. So you can see that's the container ship itself. That was the container ship on the left.

This is the damage to the bridge. But those containers, of course are part of the vessel and were also receiving reports that some of them may be unstable and that this is of course, making this rescue scene all the more difficult for first responders who are trying desperately to rescue these people at this hour.

Again, if you're just joining us, this happened about 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time overnight. And let's if we can bring up the video of the moment and we've got both live pictures and a video of itself, the collapse itself at about 1:30 in the morning.


This was being live streamed at the time and you can see that ship just hit that support structure for the bridge as the rest of it collapses. And on the right side of your screen, you're seeing an increasing number of lights it looks like as first responders have descended on to the scene, we are, of course, still waiting for the sun to come up here at, about 5:20 a.m. Eastern Time.

People in this area we happen to be broadcasting from Washington, D.C. in this road is part of the network of roads that people use every day to commute throughout this major metropolitan area. We should note this road up part of what's known as the Baltimore Beltway, it circles the city of Baltimore. It's also the main route for trucks carrying hazardous materials because the other major highways that run through the Baltimore area are actually tunnels underneath the city.

It's not considered to be safe to take those materials through the city that way. So they typically use this bridge, which again four- lane bridge carries at quite a bit of traffic. It does look like as well that we are learning that the Baltimore police and the transit authority or are creating a media staging area? Which I'm sure, Gabe, you'll be on your way to shortly.

So, we're also gave going to listen into there's one of our affiliates is on the scene and we just got a little bit of information from some officials there. This isn't live but it is just in to us on CNN. Let's listen


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's called (INAUDIBLE), which is first community going step up from the bridge. And we were awakened with what appeared to be in an earthquake and a low alarming rolling sound on the thunder.

So we woke up and literally the weekend look right out of the bedroom to see the Key Bridge, but I couldn't see anything because those of the darkness, and a little bit later got up again to check and I saw some emergency lights in the area. So, I decided to drive p because an old dog is chasing the fire truck and came up here, and was progress, this was a multijurisdictional response to a disaster.


HUNT: So that looks like an eyewitness account from a former fire official in Baltimore talking a little bit about what he saw in the aftermath of this just stunning bridge at collapse again, that happened about 1:30 this morning overnight.

Our law enforcement analyst, Andy McCabe, is with us now to help us understand a little bit more about what were seeing and Andy, I'm very grateful to have you here with us this morning. You know, I think that obviously anyone who watches this video would, of course, have so many questions about how something like this could happen.

The fact that the collision was so dead on with that support structure to cause this to happen, the way that it did. Obviously, we don't want to get into irresponsible speculating at all, but what can you give people who look at this and wonder, how could this have happened? Could it happen by accident? Did somebody do it deliberately? What do

you see when you watch this?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Kasie, It's incredibly hard to imagine, you know, I think how many times, how many thousands, hundreds of thousands of times ships of that size have gone underneath this bridge without incident.

So, this is like the, you know its a unbelievably rare and unexpected obviously event to start to think about the possibility of intentionality here, which again we have absolutely no information that would point in that direction, right now. With the obvious starting place is with the boat itself and the pilots and people on the boat who will be able to give us some insight as to what was going on there in the lead up to this impact.

And, of course, those people will be I'm sure, interviewed at length and their backgrounds will be looked into but it's just -- yeah. It's just watching a video here, you know, there's the space around the structure that was hit by the ship is, you know, five times, six times, ten times larger than the structure itself, the support structure itself.


So it's -- it certainly makes, you know, would make anybody asked those sorts of questions. But I think its really important that we hear from authorities on scene after they've had a chance to connect with the operators of that vessel, to see if there's really any reason to believe that this could there have been some sort of an intentional event or sabotage or something like that, but that's the likely and obvious place to start.

HUNT: Yeah. Andy, can you sort of just walk us through what such an investigation or series of questions might look like. I mean, what are investigator is going to be asking about? What are they going to be looking for as they tried to figure out how this happened?

MCCABE: You know, it's -- you're probably its hard to put any sort of kind of odds on this, but there are more likely to find out that there were problems on the vessel, problems with navigation equipment, problems with that led to the control of the vessel. There may have been in mechanical issues. There may have been systems that weren't working, any number of which can have impact on the pilots of the boat, essentially, not knowing that they were going to close or at this case, right at that support structure.

So there's -- there are many mechanical malfunction excuses that might play into this before we get to the point of somebody who did something intentional. And so, of course, you're going to want to ask all those things and then you're going to want to know all the background information from the people who are responsible for piloting that vessel at the time, how long they've been on the job, whether or not they've had any issues, problems in other employment roles, whether they've been on other boats that have bumped into things that they shouldn't have. An innumerable number of competence and mechanical issues that are probably more likely to play into the answer to this question than something intentional but those are the roads that investigators are going to have to go down. It will be essential to have the support and the transparency of the corporate entities that own this vessel to ensure that they get this sort of transparency and cooperation at a folks they possibly can that can be very dicey in and of itself because these people are and the corporations behind them, or are likely now going to be subjected to intense and debilitating -- at least case civil lawsuits over the massive losses that are going to be connected to this to event.

And you have folks don't like to talk when litigation is hanging in the balance. So these are all things that the investigators are going to have to get over, you know, problems, hurdles are going to have to navigate in trying to get any information out of this company and its employees and those folks who are on the scene.

HUNT: Yeah. Really, just remarkable, remarkable set of circumstances.

Andy, just standby with me. I want to -- we're approaching the bottom of the hour here. I want to play a little bit of we spoke here at CNN to the Baltimore City Fire Department spokesman around 4:30 a.m. Eastern Time. So this was the latest update of about an hour ago.

Let's just listen to what he told us and then stick with me. We'll talk about on the other side.


KEVIN CARTWRIGHT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, BALTIMORE CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We are here at Fort Armistead Park in the midst and managing a mass casualty multi-agency incident here. As you know, approximately 1:30 this morning, a vessels traveling through the Patapsco River outbound collided with a column caused in a collapse of the key bridge.

Unfortunately, we understand that there was videos up to 20 individuals who may be in the Patapsco River right now, as well as multiple vehicles. So we have as indicated on mass casualty, multi- agency incident underway.


HUNT: So that was again, Kevin Cartwright of the Baltimore City Fire Department, telling us that at this hour or last hour, I should say, there were up to 20 people known to be in the water as well -- are divers in the water at trying to rescue these individuals.

We're joined on the phone -- or excuse me, via Skype, Andy McCabe, is still with us.

Andy, you mentioned again, we're being careful to speculate about whether this was an intentional or accidental impact. And you did talk about sort of the follow-on effects. But when they're trying to figure out.