The remains of a fourth construction worker have been recovered from the site of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, as efforts continue to remove thousands of tons of wreckage from the March 26 incident

According to the multi-agency Unified Command overseeing the recovery effort, salvage teams located the victim inside a submerged vehicle believed to have been part of Hunt Valley, Md., contractor Brawner Builders Inc.’s concrete repair setup on the bridge’s 1,200-ft-long main span. The victim was present when the 985-ft-long cargo vessel M/V Dali collided with a support pylon, sending the nearly 50-year-old through-truss structure tumbling into the Patapsco River.  

The deceased worker’s identity has been withheld at the family’s request, according to Unified Command. Two victims from the eight-person work crew remain unaccounted for and are presumed dead. The bodies of three workers were recovered previously, while two others survived the incident.

Md. Gov. Wes Moore (D) said in an April 16 press conference that in the three weeks following the collapse, a concerted effort involving more than 370 people operating from an armada of more than 80 waterborne assets have removed 1,100 tons of what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District estimates are 50,000 tons of steel and concrete, much it submerged in the river’s murky waters.

Two days earlier, the massive Chesapeake 1000 crane, one of the largest of its type on the East Coast, made its first lift—a 450-ton section from the bridge’s span 19, located just north of the grounded Dali. Another lift of 300 tons was being readied as Gov. Moore and other officials addressed the media. Salvaged components are being processed for recycling at a nearby waterside logistics center located on the site of a former Bethlehem Steel plant, where steel for the Key Bridge was fabricated in the 1970s. 

Gov. Moore noted that despite the complexities of working amid tangled wreckage and limited visibility underwater over the past three weeks, the recovery effort has experienced no injuries. Calling it “a remarkable achievement,” he commended Unified Command for “working both efficiently and also safely.”

The removal of the large section marked an important step toward the Corps’ goal to clear enough debris by the end of April for establishing a 35-ft-deep, 280-ft-wide limited-access channel within the crossing’s existing federal deep-draft navigation channel. The passage will provide a one-way traffic corridor in and out of the Port of Baltimore for barge container service and some roll on/roll off vessels. Two temporary shallow-draft channels established early in the recovery effort have provided access for crane barges, crew boats and other vessels involved in the salvage effort, as well as commercially essential vessels.

Gov. Moore said that approximately 40 of the 4,700 containers aboard the Dali have been removed in order to gain access to the large section of bridge span lodged against the vessel’s bow. Although more than 50 containers reportedly contain hazardous materials, upstream and downstream water sampling by Maryland state environmental officials has found no evidence of contamination.

The Corps is hopeful that removal of the bridge section, estimated to weigh several thousand tons, will allow the Dali to be safely refloated and towed back to port, allowing for full reopening of the federal navigation channel by the end of May.

“A fully opened federal channel remains our primary goal, and we will carry out this work with care and precision, with safety as our chief priority,” Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, USACE’s commanding general, said in a statement. He admitted that the “ambitious timelines … may still be impacted by significant adverse weather conditions or changes in the complexity of the wreckage.” 

Expanding Investigations

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is continuing its probe into the incident, with an eye toward issuing a preliminary report in early May. Testifying before a Senate committee considering her renomination as Board chair, Jennifer Homendy said investigators were examining the Dali’s electrical system and whether it might have contributed to the apparent loss of the ship’s power and propulsion moments before the collision. 

Representatives from Hyundai, the electrical system’s manufacturer, are working with NTSB’s engineers to examine engine room equipment, Homendy said, adding that as the investigation is still in its early stages, “it could take different roads, different paths as we continue.”

Investigators also have interviewed members of the Dali’s crew and recovered the vessel’s data recorder, which Homendy noted provides only a “snapshot” of operations, rather than the more detail recorders found on commercial aircraft.

On April 15, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation boarded the Dali to conduct “court authorized law enforcement activity” as part of what is widely believed to be a criminal investigation into the collision. The bureau’s press operations unit declined to provide further information or comment.   

Days after President Joe Biden vowed to “move heaven and earth” to rebuild the Key Bridge as quickly as possible, Maryland’s Congressional delegation introduced bills in the House and Senate to ensure full federal funding for the expected multi-billion-dollar project, following the example of restoring the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis following its 2007 collapse.

Along with promising a bipartisan effort to secure funding for the replacement bridge, Gov. Moore vow to hold responsible parties accountable after a thorough investigation into the cause of the collapse has concluded.

“Accountability is imperative in this moment,” Gov. Moore said.

The Dali’s owner, Grace Ocean Private Ltd, and its manager, Synergy Marine Group, as well as its charterer and manufacturer already face the prospect of lawsuits from the City of Baltimore, which has hired two law firms to aid in pursuing compensation for economic and environmental damage stemming from the incident. Jeffrey P. Goodman, a partner in one of the firms, was co-lead council for victims of the deadly 2021 Surfside condominium collapse in Florida.

Grace Ocean and Synergy have already filed a petition in federal court citing previous interpretations of U.S. open-water and navigation law that would cap their liability from the collision to $43.67 million, the companies’ estimated net present value of the ship and cargo minus repair and salvage costs.