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What we know about the Baltimore bridge collapse

The massive container ship that crashed and toppled the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore in the early hours of March 26 remains trapped under the twisted remains of the bridge. Authorities have outlined plans to recover the bodies of the victims, free the ship, dismantle the wreckage and reopen the city’s port as quickly as possible.

They have begun clearing debris to clear the canal to one of the country’s busiest ports and have so far removed a 200-ton piece of the bridge, officials said. As part of the operation, officials brought in a crane capable of lifting 1,000 tons.

On another front, federal investigators said they were interviewing key crew members and examining hours of data recordings. But the investigation into the boat accident could take years, they said.

The bridge is part of Interstate 695 and a critical transportation link on the East Coast. The disaster has become the deadliest bridge collapse in the United States in more than a decade.

Six construction workers went missing in the collapse, and two of their bodies were recovered from the river on March 27. The other four were most likely encased in fallen steel and concrete, and are presumed dead, authorities said.

Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland and the FBI said there was no credible evidence of a terrorist attack.

This is what we know.

It remains unclear, and National Transportation Safety Board investigators boarded the ship on the night of March 26 to gather documentation. They obtained data from the trip data recorder, which is essentially the black box. This was sent to a laboratory to help authorities develop a timeline of events leading up to the accident.

The 985-foot-long freighter, named Dali, was leaving Baltimore Harbor when it suffered a “total blackout” that left its engine and navigation equipment without power, an industry official said. The ship issued a distress call just before hitting a critical component of the bridge, known as the pylon or pier.

Radio traffic from emergency workers suggested the crew was struggling to steer the ship, according to audio posted by Broadcastify. She was traveling about nine miles per hour, authorities said, which is typical for that area.

Audio from a Maryland Transportation Authority police channel showed that the emergency call had given officers valuable minutes to close the bridge to traffic. The effort to quickly shut down traffic likely prevented more cars from being on the bridge during the collapse and saved lives, officials said.

Pilots at the Port of Baltimore were steering the ship at the time of the accident, as is customary when ships enter ports or canals, according to a joint statement from the ship’s owner and manager. Two tugboats helped the ship leave the terminal, but then returned to the port for its next assignment, port officials said.

Governor Moore said the bridge was fully up to code and the collapse did not appear to be the result of a structural problem.

The two victims recovered on March 27 were identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, of Baltimore, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, of Dundalk, Maryland. Mr. Fuentes was from Mexico and Mr. Cabrera from Guatemala.

José López, a father of two who had emigrated from Guatemala nearly two decades ago and had worked repairing roads and bridges for the past two years, was also among the victims, his family said. But his body has not been recovered.

Divers can no longer reach the area where they believe more vehicles (and victims) remain, so officials have begun a cleanup operation, removing debris. Once it is complete and vehicles are accessible, divers will return to search for bodies, police said.

One of the workers who is still missing is a Honduran citizen, Maynor Yasir Suazo Sandoval, in his 30s, who had been living in the United States for almost two decades, according to the Honduran migrant protection service. A nonprofit that provides services to the immigrant community in Baltimore identified another missing worker as Miguel Luna, a father of three from El Salvador in his 40s.

The Dali is registered in Singapore and was headed to Colombo, Sri Lanka, according to MarineTraffic, a maritime data platform. She was carrying 4,700 sea containers, according to Synergy Marine, its director and operator.

The ship, which remains in the narrow shipping lane, has 1.5 million gallons of fuel and lubricating oil on board, said Vice Adm. Peter Gautier, deputy commander of Coast Guard operations, adding that 56 of the 4,700 containers that are still on the The ship contained hazardous materials. “There is no threat to the public from hazardous materials on board,” he said.

An inspection of the ship last year at a port in Chile reported that the ship had a deficiency related to a set of gauges. But they were changed before the ship set sail, an official said.

All 21 members of the ship’s crew, most of whom are Indian citizens, and the two pilots were accounted for, and there were no injuries among those on board the ship.

The crew members have remained on board the ship. It is normal for crew members to remain on damaged ships because they must ensure that the damaged ship does not pose a greater danger.

Dali’s crew members are most likely working to maintain the ship on a grueling schedule, similar to what they would have to do at sea. While keeping the ship operational, they also answer a barrage of questions from officials investigating the disaster.

Chris James, who works for a consulting firm helping Synergy Marine, said crew members had ample supplies of food and water, as well as plenty of fuel to keep the generators running. Once the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard complete their investigations, “we will consider exchanging the crew and bringing them home,” James said.

Some have had brief contact with crew members, sending them letters of support, packages with homemade sweets and muffins, and Wi-Fi hotspots. “We are here to support you,” one letter said.

Construction of the bridge began in 1972 and was completed in March 1977. The bridge extended 1.6 miles over the Patapsco River, but the overall structure of the crossing, including its connecting approaches, was nearly 11 miles long. It transported around 35 million vehicles a year.

For almost a week after the collapse, shipping traffic was completely closed and around a dozen ships were stranded in the port, which employs 8,000 people.

Clearing the debris is likely to be completed within weeks, engineering and salvage experts say.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will fully cover the costs of cleaning the canal, and the Biden administration said it was allocating $60 million in emergency federal highway funds to rebuild the bridge.

The cleanup operation is expected to be complex and potentially dangerous. Divers have to battle fast currents and poor visibility as they cut metal and concrete structures into more manageable pieces that can be removed.

“This is discouraging; This is complicated,” Governor Moore said of the process. He has not yet given a specific timeline for the cleanup.

The military brought in a crane capable of lifting 1,000 tons to help authorities remove debris from the water. Officials can also use sonar technology to map the twisted metal and asphalt that fell to the river bottom.

A week after the collapse, two temporary channels, one with a depth of 11 feet and another with a depth of 14 feet, were cleared and opened to allow some small barges and other vessels to enter and exit the port. But since the main channel was 50 feet deep, the governor said, it will be a long time before commercial traffic returns to the port at its historic scale and pace.

Bridge reconstruction work could take several years, engineers say.

What remains of the standing bridge will have to be evaluated for its structural soundness. Maryland transportation officials will then need to evaluate whether to build a larger highway that can carry more vehicles and whether to raise the height of the bridge above the water to accommodate larger ships passing underneath.

The report was contributed by Lucas Broadwater, Peter Eavis, Jacey Fortin, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Anna Betts, Campbell Robertson, James Glanz, Jenny Gross, mike baker, Miriam Jordan, Patricia Mazzei, Emiliano Rodríguez Mega, Michael Corkery, Eduardo Medina, Michael D. Shear, Zach Montague and Jin Yu Young.