For the latest coverage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse, click here

The text of this article has been updated to reflect new information (3/28/24)

The bodies of two construction workers have been recovered and four are still missing and presumed dead in the aftermath of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore on March 27, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard mobilized to form a marine salvage and pollution response plan. 

The workers, who have not all been officially identified, were part of an eight-person crew doing overnight pothole repair on the bridge working for contractor Brawner Builders Inc., Hunt Valley Md., or its subcontractors, Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, had told reporters. Two crew members were rescued immediately after the collapse.

Col. Roland L. Butler Jr., superintendent of the Maryland State Police, said bodies of two missing workers, who he identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, were recovered in their pickup truck in about 25 ft of water in the Patapsco River. Further recovery has been suspended to enable more debris removal, authorities said. 

In a statement on its website, company owner Jack Murphy acknowledged the deaths, noting that "safety has always been a prime consideration for our workers, but this tragic event was completely unforeseen and not something that we could imagine would happen." 

The immediate goals of responders are to remove portions of the steel superstructure that crashed onto the bow of the container ship Dali and to reopen the Port of Baltimore. 

The Corps said "it will lead the effort" to clear the federal channel as part of the larger interagency recovery effort, with "more than 1,100 engineering, construction, contracting and operations specialists to provide support."

Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Gautier said "the highest priority is restoring the waterway for shipping, stabilizing the motor vessel Dali and removing it from the site.

Also, NTSB investigators have retrieved the voyage data recorder, or black box of the ship. Marcel Muise, investigator in charge, said the recorder is far more basic than an airplane's flight data recorder, but investigators had already been able to put together a timeline of events using its data.

Gautier added that under the Corps' leadership, divers and remote vehicles are conducting underwater analysis to mitigate any pollution threats. “The vessel is stable, but still has 1.5 million gallons of oil” on board, he noted. The Dali was carrying 4,700 cargo containers, he said. Two went overboard, but are not considered hazardous, while 13 containers on the bow were damaged by the fallen bridge. The vessel's manifest shows 56 containers holding a combined 764 tons of hazardous material, according to NTSB Chair Homendy. 

“The real critical thing here is a portion of the bridge remains on the bow of that ship, and we will be coordinating very closely with the [Corps] and their contractors to first affect the removal of that debris before the vessel can then be removed,” Gautier said.

FSKbridgeNTSBdroneshot.pngThe ship channel to the Port of Baltimore remains blocked by debris from the fallen bridge.
Drone image courtesy NTSB

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said it was too early to give estimates of cost or schedule regarding either the bridge or the port facilities. However, $100 million to $200 million worth of cargo typically passes through the Port of Baltimore every day, with 8,000 jobs and $2 million in wages affected by the closure.

Provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “allow us to begin releasing funding while the cost is being determined” for all recovery work, Buttigieg said, noting that an emergency relief funding request from the Maryland Transportation Authority had come in just before the press conference. “We are processing that immediately,” he said.

Buttigieg pointed out that the Act authorized an emergency relief account, of which $950 million was available, but had many applicants. “We are likely to turn to Congress to top up the funds, but that’s not a barrier to the next few days in getting the ball rolling,” he said.

Noting that the original bridge construction took five years, Buttigieg added that it would not necessarily take that long to rebuild it. “When we helped Pennsylvania and California swiftly reopen I-95 and I-10 respectively, there was terrific work done there—but that was addressing comparatively short spans of bridges over land relative to this span over water,” he said. “And of course, in the Baltimore case, we still don't fully know the condition of the portions of the bridge that are still standing or have infrastructure that is below the surface of the water. So rebuilding will not be quick or easy or cheap, but we will get it done.”

Biden gave “clear direction to tear down any barriers, bureaucratic and financial, that would affect the timeline,” he added. 

In a statement, the building trades said it "stands ready to help rebuild this critical port at an appropriate time," noting members work in rebuilding the collapsed I-95 bridge in Philadelphia. “Until then, we offer our deepest thoughts, prayers, and solidarity as the Baltimore community recovers from this tragic incident.”

After the collapse of the 2,000-ft-long Interstate 35W bridge, a continuous truss structure in Minneapolis in 2007, a new bridge was built in less than two years. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, also a continuous through-truss, had a length of 8,636 ft.

Investigation Launches

Homendy told reporters at a press conference that NTSB is leading the investigation with support from other agencies. 

Investigators' first priority while working at the scene is to gather all perishable evidence, document the scene with photographs and recover any recordings. The Dali had 21 crew and two pilots on board at the time of the incident, and Homendy said investigators began interviewing them on the afternoon of March 27. 

NTSB will then seek technical information such as inspection and maintenance records from parties to the investigation, such as the Federal Highway Administration, Coast Guard, Maryland Transportation Authority and Association of Maryland Pilots, she said, adding that the vessel's owner, Grace Ocean Private Ltd., and operator, Synergy Marine Private Ltd., have also been invited to participate.

"These parties are part of the fact finding, but they do not conduct analysis with the NTSB," Homendy said. 

NTSB has a team of 24 people on scene, including Homendy and fellow agency board member Alvin Brown. “That’s a little larger than a typical NTSB investigation team,” said a former employee, an attorney involved in the Florida International University bridge collapse investigation who told ENR that that team had closer to a dozen or so investigators. 

But the presence of two NTSB board members may explain the size of the group, as they generally have staff that go with them. Baltimore’s proximity to Washington, D.C. also means it will be easy to bring in additional experts as needed.

Homendy said the team includes structural engineers and bridge experts who will be looking at the bridge structure and construction. NTSB has its own engineers on staff, and while the agency has only around 400 employees, it is able to bring in other federal resources as necessary. 

The team aims to release a preliminary report within four weeks and a full report and recommendations in 12-24 months, but would issue any urgent safety recommendations sooner if needed, Homendy said. 

Depending on what the investigation finds, NTSB recommendations could relate to factors such as bridge design, inspections or maintenance. The agency also could also make recommendations related to how ships are steered out of harbors, or what kind of pilings and safety measures are in the water leading up to bridges.

Examination of Fender Systems

It is unclear what the bridge's fender system was, but it was constructed before the collapse of Florida's Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 1980 that was due to a freighter's collision and prompted new design standards. 

“Every time there is a bridge failure, we gain more knowledge about the limits we have to consider,” says John Hillman, structures engineering director at Kiewit. The Sunshine Skyway “brought to the forefront a need for clear guidance of what’s required for vessel collisions.”

The Francis Scott Key bridge construction also predated the concept of designing against progressive collapse, in which the failure of one bridge member causes a domino effect, he notes. 

Ships have also increased in size and weight over the decades, moving from post-Panamax to Neo-Panamax. Although the Dali was not carrying freight at full capacity, its total dead-weight metric tonnage is 116,851, of Neo-Panamax capacity, according to

According to a finance committee report from fall 2023, the Maryland Transportation Authority had planned to install a fiberglass jacket protection system for the bridge columns, along with a deck replacement in late 2029, in a three-year project.

Buttigieg noted that “modern bridges around the world are designed with features to mitigate impacts and protect piers” but that “there is debate among [engineers] about whether those features could have had a role in a situation like this.” 

The impact was “100,000 tons going into this pier at once," he said. “Whether any design feature would have made a difference—we will get more information as the investigation proceeds.” 

The bridge’s most recent fracture critical inspection was in May 2023, and it was considered to be in satisfactory condition, Homendy said.

A U.S.-based major bridge construction manager cited comments by Ian Firth, a British structural engineer and bridge designer, to The Baltimore Sun: "Many similar bridges are protected by barriers designed to prevent or reduce the impact when a vessel collides with a pier, especially those crossing busy shipping channels where large vessels like this one come and go frequently." he said. "Such installations can take a number of forms including cable systems, pontoons, custom-destined caissons and submerged islands. But among the most widely used are dolphins—circular sheet pile cells filled with material such as sand or concrete that essentially serve as bumpers.”

The U.S. expert, who declined to be identified, added: “The river does not appear to be too deep from images, so a rock island around each pier would have absorbed the energy and prevented the ship from geometrically touching the structure. Most other types of pier protection would likely have been overwhelmed by the size of this ship."

The expert added that U.S. regulations should be reviewed, "just like overweight trucks must ask if they can have a special permit to use a bridge, with more scrutiny in evaluating that." Such a review "also should consider current restrictions in use of rock islands in the case where no other protections work," the expert said. "We also need motion detectors, sirens and automatic roadway gates when a high ship approaches too close to piers.”