Investigators find black box from cargo ship that hit Baltimore bridge

Emergency boats work near the collapsed section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, after the Dali cargo vessel crashed into it, in Baltimore, March 27, 2024. [Reuters]

U.S federal safety investigators say they have recovered the data-recording black box from the cargo ship that crashed into a Baltimore bridge. Also, divers on Wednesday recovered the remains of two of the six workers who plummeted into the Patapsco River when the span collapsed.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are hoping the data box will help answer why the Dali freight vessel lost power shortly after setting sail for Sri Lanka in the early morning darkness Tuesday and then minutes later crashed into one of two main support pillars for the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said investigators are also planning to interview the ship's crew, which sent out a mayday distress call shortly before the collision with the bridge, a warning that gave police and transportation officials moments to block motorists from driving onto either end of the bridge.

The workers, from Mexico and several Central American countries, had been filling potholes on the major U.S. eastern seaboard highway running across the bridge. A large portion of the fallen bridge landed atop the bow of the freighter, but efforts to untangle the debris have yet to start.

Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace told CNN that local, state and federal dive teams will begin the process of underwater mapping of the accident area on Wednesday.

The disaster has forced the closure of the Baltimore, Maryland, port, one of the busiest in the United States, stopping freight shipments in and out of the city, as well as cruise ship vacations.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said closure of the port would have a "major and protracted impact to supply chains." The Port of Baltimore handles more automobile freight than any other U.S. port — more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data.

President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday that the bridge would be rebuilt as quickly as possible and that the federal government would pay for it, but some analysts say that it could be at least a year before a new bridge is completed.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore said ending the rescue effort for the missing workers before darkness set in Tuesday evening was “a really heartbreaking conclusion to a challenging day.” The governor said authorities at the federal, state and local levels will use every resource available to find their remains.

The Guatemalan foreign affairs ministry issued a statement late Tuesday saying two of the workers were Guatemalan nationals — a 26-year-old from the Petén region and a 35-year-old from the Chiquimula area.

A nonprofit organization that provides services to the Baltimore immigrant community says one of the missing workers was from El Salvador, had lived in Maryland for 19 years and was married with three children. News outlets identified the other workers as being from Mexico and Honduras.

Parts of the Francis Scott Key Bridge remain after a container ship collided with one of the bridge’s supports, on March 26, 2024, in Baltimore. [AP Photo]

Clay Diamond, executive director of the American Pilots Association, the organization that represents workers responsible for steering seagoing vessels, said the Singapore-flagged Dali container ship had a "total blackout" of engine and electrical power minutes before the collision.

Video showed the bridge quickly collapsing into the river after the Dali collided with a support column. The vessel, 48 meters wide and 300 meters long, was loaded with cargo containers.

Synergy Marine Group, managers of the Dali, issued a statement saying that all 20 of its crew members and the two Maryland harbor pilots on board were accounted for and there were no reports of injuries on board the vessel.

U.S. news outlets are reporting an inspection of the Dali last year at a port in Chile found that the vessel had a deficiency related to "propulsion and auxiliary machinery."

The inspection, conducted on June 27 at the port of San Antonio, specified that the problem concerned gauges and thermometers. A later inspection, however, found no defects.

Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority said in a statement that the vessel passed two separate foreign-port inspections last June and September. It said a faulty fuel pressure gauge was rectified before the vessel departed the port following its June inspection.

The 47-year-old, 2.5-kilometer-long Francis Scott Key Bridge was a major link in the interstate highway that circles the city of Baltimore. Biden said 30,000 vehicles crossed the bridge on a typical day.

The bridge was named after Francis Scott Key, the writer of The Star-Spangled Banner, a poem later set to music to eventually become the U.S. national anthem.

Key was inspired to write the poem after witnessing the British bombardment of a major U.S. military fort in Baltimore in 1814 during the war that began in 1812.