Baltimore Key Bridge collapse: 6 workers believed dead, officials say

Officials believe six people have died after a portion of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed when it was struck by a large container ship early Tuesday morning.

During an evening press conference, Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath, the commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, said, "Based on the length of time that we've gone in the search, the extensive search efforts that we put into it, the water temperature at this point, we do not believe that we will find any of these individuals still alive."

Gilreath announced that the Coast Guard suspended its active search and rescue efforts at 7:30 p.m. 

"The Coast Guard is not going away. None of our partners are going away, but we are just going to transition to a different phase," he said. 

Colonel Roland Butler, Jr., the secretary of the Maryland State Police Department, echoed his statements. 

"The changing conditions out there have made it dangerous for the first responders and divers in the water," he said. "We will still have surface ships out overnight."

Col. Butler added that the department hopes to put divers in the water around 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, and begin a more detailed search for the six missing workers. 

"We're going to do everything in our power to help these families find closure," he said.

The collapse happened around 1:30 a.m. when the large cargo vessel Dali hit one of the bridge's support columns, sending construction workers and several vehicles plunging into the frigid water below.  

The collision caused the span to buckle and tumble into the water in just a matter of seconds. A live stream camera captured the shocking spectacle of the bridge collapsing on video. 

Did Anyone Die in the Baltimore Bridge Collapse?

First responders were able to pull two people from the river almost immediately. One of those rescued was taken to Baltimore's Shock Trauma Center. The second person declined treatment. Six others remain missing. The six still unaccounted for were part of a construction crew filling potholes on the bridge.

Those six people are presumed dead by their employer. The U.S. Coast Guard announced Tuesday evening that they are suspending their search efforts until Wednesday morning, but they do not believe they will find anyone alive.

READ MORE: 6 presumed dead in Baltimore bridge collapse, says employer

In an afternoon press conference, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy remained tight-lipped about the search and rescue efforts, only saying that they are ongoing. 

"Right now, it's about people. It's about families and addressing the needs of those that were impacted," Homendy said. "Nobody is going by a number. They are just looking and searching. That's what's important."

The FBI, Coast Guard and several Maryland agencies are assisting in the search with multiple dive teams reportedly working the scene. 

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said that the crew of the ship lost power and issued a mayday call in the moments before they struck the bridge, a decision that likely saved many lives. "These people are heroes," Moore said. "They saved lives last night." "We're thankful that between the mayday and the collapse that we had officials who were able to begin to stop the flow of traffic so more cars were not on the bridge," Moore said. 

The vessel caught fire after hitting the bridge and black smoke billowed into the air. The crash happened long before the busy morning commute began on the 1.6 mile span. 

President Biden spoke about the partial collapse and pledged all the resources necessary to rebuild the bridge and reopen the port. He said it is his intention to use federal funds to rebuild the structure. Biden applauded the quick action of the ship's crew who issued the mayday prior to the crash. "I've directed my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible," he said.

READ MORE: Pres. Biden addresses Baltimore bridge collapse

How Many Cars Were On The Baltimore Bridge?

It is unclear exactly how many vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. However, officials said sonar indicated that several vehicles were in the water earlier this morning.

Any vehicles that did plunge into the river could possibly belong to the workers who were filling potholes when the crash happened.

NTSB Chair Homendy would not answer reporters' questions concerning the number of cars possibly caught on sonar and deferred to the Coast Guard for any answers on that. 

According to Marine Traffic and Vessel Finder, the Dali was headed from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and flying under a Singapore flag. The ship is about 985 feet long and about 157 feet wide, according to data from Marine Traffic.

"Never would you think that you would see, physically see, the Key Bridge tumble down like that. It looked like something out of an action movie," said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott at an update Tuesday morning. He called the situation "an unthinkable tragedy."

"This is a dire emergency," Baltimore Fire Department director of communications Kevin Cartwright told the Associated Press. "Our focus right now is trying to rescue and recover these people." He called the collapse a "developing mass casualty event." 

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Baltimore Key Bridge collapses after struck by cargo ship; 2 rescued, several others believed in water

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld said vessel traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore has been suspended, but ground traffic can still get through. States of Emergency have been declared in both the state of Maryland and the City of Baltimore in order to deploy federal resources.

In Maryland's economy, the Port of Baltimore generates nearly $3.3 billion in total personal income and supports 15,330 direct jobs and 139,180 jobs connected to Port work. 

"I’ve spoken with Gov. Moore and Mayor Scott to offer USDOT’s support following the vessel strike and collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge," Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg posted on Tuesday. "Rescue efforts remain underway and drivers in the Baltimore area should follow local responder guidance on detours and response."

READ MORE: Baltimore Key Bridge collapse live updates: 6 people still missing

The collapse caused major traffic problems throughout the Baltimore region on Tuesday. All lanes of I-695 were closed at the bridge and drivers were advised to avoid the I-695 southeast corridor. Drivers were told to use I-95 or I-895 as alternate routes.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge opened in 1977 and spans the Patapsco River at the entrance to a busy harbor. The river leads to the Port of Baltimore, a major hub for shipping on the East Coast. 

I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis lit up in Maryland flag colors

The Minnesota Department of Transportation lit the I-35W Bridge Tuesday night red, black and yellow – the colors of the Maryland state flag – to show support for Baltimore residents. 

In a statement, MnDOT wrote, "Our thoughts are first and foremost with all those who have been injured or are still missing as a result of Tuesday morning’s tragedy in Baltimore and to the brave first responders on the scene."

Listen to the chilling Maryland Transportation Authority police dispatch and response below: 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.