Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Baltimore Bridge Collapse News Conference; Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapses. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 06:30   ET



CHIEF JAMES WALLACE, BALTIMORE CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: Twelve hours. You can expect to continue to see our air and maritime assets functioning out on the water and in the air above. We need to do damage assessment of - of the ship itself before we can board that ship. And we need to continue our subsurface search, which is including different types of sonar. We have side scan sonar. We have other sonar capabilities here. We have underwater UAVs that we're working with, and throughout the night we've also been working with infrared technology, both from the air and on the water surface.

So, I'm going to wrap up here with just saying, this continues to be a search and rescue operation. It continues to be a very dynamic operation with multiple local state and federal resources involved. With that, I'm going to turn it over to our mayor, Mayor Brandon Scott.

MAYOR BRANDON M. SCOTT (D), BALTIMORE: Thank you. Thank you, Chief.

Everyone, this is an unthinkable tragedy. We have to, first and foremost, pray for all of those who are impacted, those families. Pray for our first responders and thank them, all of them, working together, city, state, local, to make sure that we are working through this tragedy.

This is an ongoing, active research that we're having right now. We're going to continue, as you heard from Chief Wallace to - throughout as long as we have to be doing that, we will do it. But we have to be thinking about the families and people impacted. Folks who we have to try to find and save. This is what our focus should be on right now. We're going to continue to work in partnership with every part of government to do everything that we can to get us through the other side of this tragedy.

And with that, I'll turn it over to County Executive Olsewski.


I think we all awoke this morning to an unspeakable tragedy. As the mayor indicated, we know that there will be families and individuals impacted by this, regardless of what happens the rest of the way out. So, I would just echo the mayor in lifting up prayers for those who are impacted, but also ask that our residents pay - pray for our first responders. You know, they have been on-scene since very early in the morning, not only conducting initial search and rescue operations, but planning for additional ones as the sun comes up. And, you know, the work that they do cannot be understated. And we - I want to just thank them for all that they are doing and - and will do in the hours and days ahead.

We know that we have a long road ahead, not just in the search and rescue, but in the fallout following this. I think we appropriately have our attention on the search and rescue efforts currently. And just here, alongside our partners in the city, to say that they have our full support. Just as we want to thank our state partners for the resources they've offered up, as well as the federal partners who have already reached out. The mayor and I have talked to the governor. We've heard from the secretary of transportation. So, collectively, we thank everyone for their thoughts, their well-wishes. But again, this is a very active situation and we want to just thank the chief and our teams for all the great work they're doing.

And with that I'll turn things back over to the chief.

WALLACE: Thank you, County Executive Olsewski.

We can do some Q&A right now. Now we're just going to go around, have everyone present one (ph) question.


QUESTION: Chief, can you tell us where the crew of the ship is? You also mentioned too that two people were rescue. Who made the first 911 call? And there were reports that it was a crew on the deck of the ship working at that point. Can you confirm any of that information?

WALLACE: The latest information we have on the - on the crew of the ship is that they are still on board the ship. There's been coms between the ship crew and the Coast Guard. So, as port - as part of the overall operation, we communicate through the Coast Guard with the ship.

And I'm sorry, your other questions?

QUESTION: There were two people taken. Who made the first 911 call?

WALLACE: I don't know who's - who made that call yet.

QUESTION: OK. And were there other workers on the - the deck of the ship or the deck of the bridge at this point? We have heard that information. Can you confirm that?

WALLACE: We - we're being told there were workers on the bridge. We have yet to confirm that. We'll work with MDTA to, you know, obviously to get that information.

QUESTION: About how many cars were on that ship? Last question. Or on the - on the deck of the bridge at the time of the collapse? Do you know that? WALLACE: Don't have a number. I can tell you our sonar has detected the presence of vehicles submerged in the water. I don't have a count of that yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Chief, you mentioned upwards of seven individuals that you're looking for. we've heard reports of as many as 20 individuals. Can you just paint a more clear picture of about how many people actually fell into the water, how many people we might be looking to rescues? And also, if you can get an idea of how many vehicles, although you might not have that answer, but really just the (INAUDIBLE).


WALLACE: Yes, I'll start with the last one. So, I don't know how many vehicles yet. I know that we have detected the presence of vehicles. As far as the number between the seven and 20, that's been a dynamic count throughout the morning. Just given the fact that we haven't yet nailed that number down. We do believe that at least seven are involved in that. At least seven at this point.

QUESTION: That fell into the water?

WALLACE: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Yes, and I know you said the crew was accounted for through (ph) your Coast Guard on deck. Do we know if any of the crew members were part of these at least seven people that may have been in the water?

WALLACE: We do not.

QUESTION: Can I just ask, survivability in the water throughout these temperatures is not very long. Will you shift focus to have more of a (INAUDIBLE)?

WALLACE: So, we'll be guided by - by our dive teams. We will determine what the temperature of the water is. The other issue that we have out there is this water is current influenced. So, right now we think the tide is coming back in. That adds a bit of a challenge to us also. We can certainly dive in these conditions, but we have to take a lot of factors into play, right? The fact that there may be trauma involved. They have been in the water an extended period of time. But also remember, we're battling darkness. So, you know, it's quite possible that we may have somebody there that we've not seen yet. And as they work closer to the debris field, you know, they'll, obviously, make those determinations.

But we're going to rely on the experts, which are our dive masters that are here, our dive team, to tell us when they believe we've reached that - that non-survivability point.

Yes, sir.


QUESTION: Chief Wallace, was there any indication that there was a problem on the ship? Was it led in by tug boats (INAUDIBLE), anything that so far early on points you to something went wrong?

WALLACE: WE - we do not have that information with regard to the investigation. I would refer that to - to law enforcement. My - my focus since 1:40 this morning has been that rescue operation.

QUESTION: So far there's been no indication that any kind of like an emergency dispatch came from that ship beforehand?

WALLACE: I have no information about that, ma'am.

QUESTION: Have you - have you been able to talk to the pilot, the American pilot, on - on that bridge?

WALLACE: The pilot on the vessel?


WALLACE: We have not talked to the pilot on the vessel. The rescue personnel, the rescue operation, we have not interacted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back over here.

QUESTION: Chief, can you - can you tell us about (INAUDIBLE)?

WALLACE: I don't have (INAUDIBLE) I'm sorry.


WALLACE: Yes, I don't - I don't have age and gender on either. One patient refused service, right, really, they weren't injured. The second patient, however, was seriously injured and is at an area trauma center.

QUESTION: Are you including them in the seven - at least seven people?

WALLACE: We don't know yet if they're part of that seven.


WALLACE: The patient is injured severely enough that we've not been able to debrief that patient.

QUESTION: That seven number, did that come from people witnessing cars going down? Where did that come from? Or was that just from the sonar hits that you got?

WALLACE: No, that was the initial information that we got as we were arriving on the scene, that number. And that number again, as I said earlier, has fluctuated, right? But that - that seven has been a consistent number.

QUESTION: How many agencies are here assisting right now? WALLACE: Oh, wow.


WALLACE: Yes, dozens. I mean, locally, you know, fire department wise, Baltimore County's here, Howard County's here, Harford was here. PG was here. Anarundle (ph). Of course, Baltimore City. And a lot of those agencies are here by virtue of the fact that they may have specialized equipment that we need during an incident like this.

So, we're bringing in the equipment specific to the operation right now. And then even - even law enforcement agencies have a lot of the same marine ops equipment as we do. So, given the incident is so big, we try to force multiply and just bring as many resources in as we can so that we can really blank a large area for a search.

QUESTION: What about the (INAUDIBLE)?

WALLACE: We don't - we've not been able to confirm that we actually have an active fuel spill from the vessel. We've had odors of diesel fuel. The Maryland Department of the Environment is here, as well as the Coast Guard. So, they would take leads on that as well.

We hope as the sun comes up a little bit, with the air assets that are up, to get a much better picture. If we do have a fuel spill, what the impact has been so far.


WALLACE: Yes, Maryland State Police has been here. Foxtrot (ph) is also working this. They're our two air resources right now.


I don't know that we won't bring any more in, but right now they're the two primary.

You know, air reconnaissance on something on the open water is just - it's an invaluable resource and we've been very fortunate to have it because as we put people out in the dark on the water to conduct searches, they have that degree of overwatch from those assets. So, it's been an invaluable resource for us.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, executives, we're talking about search and rescue. I know that. And that's where the focus is right now.

I was awakened with this news. We were all awakened to this news. I've seen the video. What - what - what do you make of the totality of this incident? What are - what are you thinking about what you've seen and what this community's experiencing?

SCOTT: Well, this is a tragedy as you can never imagine, right? And I was awake when Chief Wallace called me. But never would you think that you would see - physically see the Key Bridge tumbled down like that. It looked like something out of an action movie. And you just think about, most importantly, and which is what we all should be thinking about right now, nothing but those families and people that are impacted, and those people who are risking their lives right now, from not just Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but all over this state, to try to save lives. That should be our focus, the preservation of life, because no one wants to see that happen, let alone someone in their family, or someone that they know be injured in an incident like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll take two more questions and that will be it.

QUESTION: Your thoughts about what you've - what this community is experiencing this morning.

OLSEWSKI: Look, I think that folks are stunned. I think folks are reeling. And I think that's particularly true for people who are worried about their loved ones right now. I think there will be plenty of time to talk about what this bridge means to the community, what it means for commerce. But, at the end of the day, right now this is about the humanity of people who are impacted and the men and women who are out there trying to save lives

and recover folks off the bridge.

So, I think there will be plenty - plenty of opportunity to talk about that. But really right now, and for the foreseeable hours ahead, this is really about focusing on the search and rescue efforts.

And I'll, just again, thank the chief for his leadership and for all of the affiliated partners that we have working on this.


QUESTION: Chief, (INAUDIBLE) fact that this could have been intentional, that this could be some sort of act of terrorism (INAUDIBLE) intentionally hit the bridge?

WALLACE: That's - that's not my focus here, ma'am. That's part of the law enforcement investigations. So, I would - I would defer to - to the proper authorities for that.

QUESTION: And (INAUDIBLE) can I ask, we saw something similar to this happen in Philly when I-95 (ph) caved - a portion of that (INAUDIBLE) out. I know you said that you guys have spoken to the secretary of transportation, obviously Secretary Buttigieg. Has he made any comment about the assistance like we saw in Philly (INAUDIBLE) to get this -

SCOTT: I'll answer that first.


SCOTT: No, thank - thank you.

I spoke with Secretary Buttigieg directly. He and his team said that they 're going to, obviously, work with us throughout this incident. And work with not just the city and county but really the state of Maryland to make sure that we have every resource that he and the federal government can provide.

QUESTION: How long is it going to take to rebuild this, Mayor?

SCOTT: I think right now, sir, listen, we shouldn't even be having that discussion right now. The discussion right now should be about the people, the souls, the lives that we're trying to save. There will be a time to discuss about a bridge and how we get a bridge backup. But right now there are people in the water that we have to get out. And that's the only thing we should be talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And to go back to the question about the terrorism. There is absolutely no indication that there's any terrorism, that this was done on purpose. Our criminal intel is working with the FBI and other federal and state agencies to get all the intel that we have, but there's absolutely no indication that it was intentional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I want to thank you all. I will be advising you, updating you on things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Good luck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will that be here, Kevin?

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we have been listening to Baltimore County Chief James Wallace, the mayor of Baltimore, and other city officials who are grappling with this massive tragedy that has been unfolding this morning as the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed into the Patapsco River.

There has been a dynamic count officials tell us of the number of people who landed in the water and who they are actively right now searching for and trying to rescue in very difficult conditions. Very, very cold water, and as the chief noted there, water that has a current. They believe, he says, that the tide is coming in. So that, of course, makes it that much more difficult for officials who are engaged in a search and rescue for the individuals that landed in the water when what you are seeing right now happened this morning at about 1:27 a.m. this morning Eastern Time.


If you are just joining us, if you are just waking up to this news with us, you are seeing on the left side of your screen the moment of impact. We've got a live shot. This is honestly the best we've been able to see all morning of the aftermath of this incident on the right side of your screen. This is video coming in from an affiliate as the sun is coming up.

The other challenge the chief said with these rescues is, of course, the darkness. And they are really just getting their first daylight look at what has happened here. That container ship, you could see it a little bit better on the right-hand side of your screen just a moment ago, directly connecting with that support pylon of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and leading to its complete collapse. We heard some of the calls that came in when officials first got to the scene and the line was, the entire bridge is in the harbor. The bridge is in the harbor. That is what happened here.

And again, this kind of a ship transiting this kind of waterway, an incredibly everyday occurrence in this area. It's a massive port. It's not usually something we have to think about at all.

But just to reset and give you kind of the breakdown that we just heard here from officials who took those microphone shortly after 6:15 this morning, there is an active search and rescue operation. They are currently using the number seven. We've heard it this morning as high as 20. But they say that what they know right now is that it is seven people that they are actively searching for. That number could change. Like I said, it's been dynamic throughout the morning.

They said that they did rescue two people. They say one person refused treatment. The fire chief described him as - him or her as not injured, said that they refused treatment, walked away from the scene. Another person they say was transported to an area trauma center in critical condition. So critical that they have been unable to talk to that person about what happened.

Now, there are a couple categories of people that they are actively searching for at this hour. There are reports that there were construction workers - and they acknowledged that they have been told that there were construction workers on the bridge at the time, but that the fire department in Baltimore County does not have active conformation of that. They are working with the Maryland Transportation Authorities to try to ascertain if there were construction crews on the bridge.

There were, of course, vehicles on the bridge. And Chief Wallace did tell us that their sonar - they're using sonar to search underneath the water - does show that there are vehicles in the water. So, they are actively looking for any individuals who may be affected by that.

There are, of course, also questions about the crew that's on board that container ship. And they say that they are concerned about the stability of the ship. They've got to figure out what is safe before they can board that ship. And figure out if they are able to or need to help people who are there.

He did also say that the fire department has not talked to the pilot on the vessel yet. So, that is, again, the report from the Baltimore County Fire Department in that - in that instance. This, of course, investigation has already just exploded in size with local, state, federal agencies all involved. The Baltimore FBI on the scene here.

We did have one of those officials, although all the officials that just spoke underscored that the focus at this time is trying to save lives that may have been impacted by this crash. They did note that they have absolutely no indication at this time that this was terrorism. They are looking at this right now as an accident.

So, when you watch that video that shows this boat hitting that direct pylon, causing the complete collapse, important to underscore that officials are saying at this time that they have absolutely no indication that this was terrorism. Now, we did here, of course, the emotion in the Baltimore mayor's

voice as he spoke about what it was like to wake up to this, to watch this unfold. He called it something out of an action movie. And he said that the focus at this time should be on those souls whose lives are potentially lost here.

I also do want to note, as we get to our Gabe Cohen, who is on the scene, that they did raise the possibility that there's an active fuel spill. They say they're trying to confirm that. They did say that there is a smell of fuel and that environmental agencies are also being involved in this search, rescue, recovery mission.

Gabe Cohen, let me bring you in because I know you've been working to get yourself to the best possible vantage point to cover this story. What have you learned? What are you seeing right now?


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, as we finally have some daylight here in the last few minutes, its stunning what we can see from our vantage point.

I want to step out of the way so we can push in on this scene where we're finally getting a sense of the rescue operation that, as you mentioned, is currently underway on the Patapsco River.

Those lights that we were showing you over the past couple hours, it does look like they are police boats, first responder boats that are in the water on this rescue operation trying to find those people. As you mentioned, sonar has picked up that there are cars in the water and they're trying to rescue people who could still be inside.

And as we zoom in on the ship, take a look, Kasie, you can see chunks of the bridge, the Key Bridge that tumbled down toward the water, still on the deck of that shipping container. Pieces of the bridge mangled on top of the boat itself, on top of the ship itself.

As they mentioned during the press conference, first responders, authorities have been in touch and the Coast Guard have been in touch, it sounds like, with the crew of the ship. We don't know the latest of everyone who was onboard. But, look, you may look at a river like this and say, OK, how significant is the rescue operation? As we pan to the right, this gives you a sense of how much of the bridge was lost. It was a huge chunk of it. From our vantage point it looks like the majority of the bridge is gone down into the water here.

And so first responders, these rescuers, really have a lot of ground to cover. And as you can see there, that appears to be a Coast Guard helicopter also flying just over the water, perhaps looking for anyone who might be down in these intense waves. If you can't get a sense, it is not gentle conditions on the water this morning. It is freezing out here. The wind has been whipping all morning. So, certainly rescuers have their hands full and they're particularly concerned for the condition of anyone who could be in the water now hours into this operation. But, Kasie, you can see, I can count from my view maybe eight, ten boats that are part of this rescue operation. And that's just from what I can see, you know, at least a half-mile from the bridge. Look, they have both sides of the bridge locked down. The area shutdown to anyone who is not part of this rescue operation because you heard - you heard the urgency from both the mayor, as well as those agencies, that this is still very much an active scene and a rescue operation. That is the focus, trying to save people's lives. And that's what we're watching from this vantage point.

But - but again, Kasie, as we're finally getting daylight, it is shocking to see these pieces of the Key Bridge broken apart and either in the water or sitting broken on top of that shipping container - or, yes, the vessel there.

HUNT: Gabe, I mean just - this is, as you point out, this is our first daylight glimpse of the aftermath of this horrific scene in Baltimore with the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed on top of the Dalai container ship bound for Sri Lanka.

Our Juliette Kayyem noted that there would have been a harbor pilots, someone specifically trained to navigate these waters, on board this ship. Underscoring again, official tells us, there's no indication of terrorism.

Chief Wallace of the Baltimore City Police Department and not - not Baltimore County. I misspoke earlier. The Baltimore City Police Department telling us the efforts right now are on the search and rescue as they really are racing against time to try to get anyone impacted by this out of water that is so cold.

Our Derek Van Dam told us that, you know, human survivability is only around three hours or so in water that is the temperature, the 48 degree temperature that we understand that water to be. Again, this unfolding at 1:27 a.m. We've been showing you the moment of impact. Now we're able to show you the - I mean the Baltimore mayor is absolutely right, this is - this is out of an action movie. Twisted metal on top of that ship as we see those - those rescue boats there.

You know, I just - as someone who - with a lot of personal ties to Baltimore as well, I mean it's - it's just - my heart goes out to all of the families that are impacted and affected here.

Let's get to our Kevin Liptak, who's at the White House, who I understand that the president of the United States actively monitoring this situation.

Kevin, what can you tell us?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, certainly White House officials, like the rest of the country, absorbing the totality of destruction as the sun comes out today.


And we are hearing from White House officials who do say they're closely monitoring this incident. And I think the most important thing that we've heard from the White House this morning is telling us that there's no indication of any nefarious intent. You know, terrorism or otherwise. And we, obviously, heard that from the local officials as well. But certainly, as we start to piece together what exactly happened here, that option, it seems to be off the table. As federal law enforcement begins to engage, we are hearing from a White House official that there's no indication of nefarious intent.

What we have also heard from the White House is that the Coast Guard is sort of taking the lead in terms of the federal response at the moment, in terms of the search and rescue for those who remain unaccounted for as part of this. And, obviously, White House officials are in touch with officials on the ground there. And you heard a number of officials in that press conference just now saying that they had spoken to the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. We know that he spoke to the governor, Wes Moore. He spoke to the Baltimore mayor, Brandon Scott.

And now we should say, President Biden himself was scheduled to travel today on a campaign trip to North Carolina. We haven't gotten word that that trip is canceled as of now, but certainly it gives you a sense of the balance that any incumbent president running for re- election will have to strike when we have this sort of incident, this sort of tragedy unfolding that he will certainly want to keep an eye on. But as of now, White House officials saying they're very closely monitoring what's happening there in Baltimore.

HUNT: Yes. All right, our Kevin Liptak for us at the White House.

Kevin, thank you very much.

Let me bring in briefly Andy McCabe as we approach the top of the hour.

Andy, we did hear from an official saying very clearly that at this point they have no indication that this was terrorism. What do you make of official being able to make that claim at this point, also knowing, of course, the FBI is on the scene and involved in this investigation?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think that makes a lot of sense. I mean they're basing that no doubt on the fact that there's a dearth of or an absence of intelligence or information that would point in that direction.

Now, you know, you have to, of course, always caveat that with, we're at the very beginning stages of this effort as the officials there in the press conference indicated. You know, 99 percent of their focus right now, if not 100 percent, is on rescue and recovery, like identifying victims and pulling as many of those folks out of the water as quickly as they possibly can. So, you don't really know where things are going to go after - after we get through this phase and they make more substantial contact with the individuals on the vessel and they're actually able to sit down and start asking some questions about how this whole thing happened. You know, as we've said - as we've discussed earlier this morning,

Kasie, it's, you know, entirely more likely that there are mechanical failures or mistakes, incompetence, failure of training, things like that, human error, that were behind this. Those - those chances are all far more likely than intentionality, some sort of sabotage or terrorism. And I think it's good that we're hearing from officials that they're considering that, but at this point they have no indication that that's the case here.

I'm sure if we asked them the follow-up question, they would probably also say they have a - they have a long way to go before they have a solid understanding of exactly what led to this horrible event.

HUNT: Yes, of course.

Juliette, we are approaching the end of the hour here, but just briefly, can you explain - there would have been a harbor pilot on board this ship.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Yes, so any complicated system in which you're going through a city, there'll be - there'll be a presence on the ship that's not owned by the ship company. You want someone to be able to navigate and help these ships that are coming from around the world through tighter areas, under bridges. So, I'm waiting - so, in the press conference they said that - that there - that there was such an individual on board. Not at all surprising that no one from the ship has been interviewed or contact yet. Even though we don't think anything nefarious was done, there's going to be an investigation, even a civil one, just given the damage that was done, so everyone is being cautious about what they say without lawyers. That would be typical.

HUNT: Right.

KAYYEM: What I am looking at right now is whether the ship was disabled or not when it hit the bridge.


KAYYEM: The reason why I say that is (INAUDIBLE) hard to happen, right? In other words, this looks like a ship that could not get out of its own way. We will have reports from the ship. We'll be able to tell when - when - whether its electoral system went down (ph).

HUNT: All right. Yes.


KAYYEM: And so that's what - that's going to be the number one investigation right now.

HUNT: Of course.

Juliette Kayyem, Andy McCabe, I want to thank you both for joining us early on this morning.

KAYYEM: Thanks.

HUNT: And I do just want to take a moment of personal privilege. I mean, I keep this Orioles mug on this desk every single day that I broadcast here. I have very strong family roots in the Baltimore area and watching these pictures of this bridge that I, my family have driven across many times, our hearts goes out to Baltimore. It is one of the strongest places in our country and I know it is going to bounce back from this. But we are currently praying for all of those people who have been affected by this and especially for those first responders.

Thanks very much for joining us. Don't go anywhere. Our breaking news coverage continues on CNN right now.