Nail-biting audio of distress call as Baltimore police rush to stop traffic driving onto bridge before it collapses

27 March 2024, 09:04

The Key Bridge was hit by a ship and collapsed on March 26
The Key Bridge was hit by a ship and collapsed on March 26. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The audio of a distress call in which Baltimore police try to stop cars driving onto the bridge before the out-of-control ship crashes into it has been released.

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The Dali ship issued a mayday moments before the crash in the early hours of Tuesday morning, meaning authorities were able to close off the Key Bridge to regular traffic.

Six builders working on the bridge who fell into the water after it was hit are presumed dead.

About a minute and a half after the mayday call, police can be heard trying to stop people coming onto the bridge.

One person is heard on the call: "I need one of you guys on the south side, one of you guys on the north side, hold all traffic on the Key Bridge.

Police audio catches moment Baltimore Bridge collapses

"There's a ship approaching that just lost their steering so until we get that under control, we've got to stop all traffic.

He added: "The whole bridge just fell down. Start everybody. The whole bridge just collapsed".

Someone else responds: "Do we know if all traffic was stopped?"

He added: "I can’t get to the other side sir - the bridge is down."

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks during a news conference
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks during a news conference. Picture: Alamy

Given the time the workers have been missing and the water temperatures, they are presumed to have died.

One of the construction workers was identified as 49-year-old Miguel Luna, from El Salvador.

Family members, including his wife, Maria del Carmen Castellon, were allowed into the disaster zone as they awaited updates.

"They only tell us that we have to wait, that for now, they can’t give us information," she told Telemundo 44 on Tuesday.

The Key Bridge was hit by a ship and collapsed  on March 26
The Key Bridge was hit by a ship and collapsed on March 26. Picture: Getty

"[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."

The Coast Guard has since suspended its search and rescue mission and is instead focusing on a recovery mission.

"We do not want to injure any of these first responders in this recovery effort," an official said.

It comes after harrowing close-up video footage emerged of the moment Baltimore's Key Bridge collapsed after being struck by a container ship.

The Key Bridge was hit by a ship and collapsed on March 26
The Key Bridge was hit by a ship and collapsed on March 26. Picture: Getty

A state of emergency was declared on Tuesday morning following the catastrophic collision, which occurred at about 1.30am.

The Singaporean flagged Dali, was only 20 minutes into its journey when it slammed into a support column on the bridge. 

US president Joe Biden posted on Twitter: “This morning, I convened senior members of my team for a briefing on the collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge. I've directed my Administration to ensure every federal resource is available to assist search and rescue efforts and response to this terrible incident.”

The ship's crew has remained on board the cargo vessel, which remains marooned under the bridge, and are being questioned by members of the Coast Guard.

Read More: Up to 20 construction workers and several vehicles plunge into river after Baltimore bridge collapses

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During an early morning press conference at around 6:30 am, Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace was only able to confirm that two people were pulled from the water.

Two pulled from water after Baltimore bridge hit by cargo ship collapses

One was unhurt, the other had to be rushed to a local hospital with "serious injuries".

It was not immediately clear what caused the cargo ship to crash into the bridge. The FBI has not ruled out terrorism.

One local official described the collision as a "developing mass casualty event."

Cargo ship crashes into Baltimore bridge which collapsed
Cargo ship crashes into Baltimore bridge which collapsed. Picture: Getty

The rescue effort incorporates Coast Guard ships, local police boats, Baltimore's Fire Department, volunteer fire departments from the surrounding areas as well as teams of divers as the desperate search for survivors goes on.

According to an early Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) report, the container ship "lost propulsion" as it was leaving port. 

"The vessel notified MD Department of Transportation (MDOT) that they had lost control of the vessel and an allision with the bridge was possible," the report said.

"The vessel struck the bridge causing a complete collapse."

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The ship crashed into one of the bridge’s supports, causing the structure to snap and buckle at several points and tumble into the water in a matter of seconds — a shocking spectacle that was captured on video and posted on social media.

The vessel caught fire billowing thick black smoke out of its wreck.

There appeared to be an explosion on the container ship as it collided with the bridge sending container and diesel flooding into the water. One of the vehicles that fell to the water was a tractor-trailer.

The ship involved is the 948 foot long Dali, a Singaporean-flagged container bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka. It could be seen on ship tracking websites positioned stationary under the bridge following the crash.

It left Baltimore's Seagirt Marine Terminal at 12:24am. At 1:25am, is began to slow and diverted off of its course. The video shows lights going off on board just before the crash.

Graphic shows location of collapsed bridge in Baltimore

It's unclear what cargo the Dali was holding. According to the ship's owners, all crew members were accounted for with no injuries reported.

 Around 30,000 vehicles use the bridge, which is named for the writer of the Star Spangled Banner, every day. It opened in 1977.

Sonar has indicated that there are vehicles in the water, where the temperature was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit in the early hours of Tuesday, according to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.