Baltimore Bridge: Why it collapsed like a paper tower

Rescue teams search for more than seven people in Baltimore - What experts say about its collapse

Screenshot 3 20 Baltimore Bridge, rescue teams

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has caused a shock. So far, two people have been rescued from the waters of the Patapsco River, one of whom is in very serious condition. The second refused first aid, as he was not injured.

Still, according to the head of the fire service, rescue teams are looking for "more than seven people", adding that it was a "very large event with a very large footprint". As for the personnel of the ship that collided, all are in good health and remain on board.

The fire chief also said sonar had detected the presence of vehicles in the water, but the search was made more difficult by the tidal effect. "We fight in the dark. It's very possible that we have someone there that we haven't seen yet," said the fire chief

Many vehicles fell into the river

When the bridge collapsed, many vehicles were on the bridge. One of them was the size of a tractor trailer. According to information there are some loads hanging from the bridge, creating unsafe conditions.

Still, all lanes of traffic were closed on the bridge before the collapse and all traffic was rerouted, the Maryland Transportation Authority said shortly before 2 a.m.

Possible causes of the accident

A marine safety expert says the "most likely" reason the ship collided with one of the pylons of the Baltimore bridge was a malfunction in the ship's machinery.

David McFarlane, director of Maritime Risk and Safety Consultants Ltd, told Sky News: “The first thing that comes to mind is: There was a sudden failure of the ship's engines or steering gear. The other, of course, is: there was a navigation error.”

Mr McFarlane said human error was less likely because of the number of people on duty, adding: "There shouldn't be any room for one person to make mistakes because one of the other people would have to jump in and to say "wait...".

Finally, he said “The most likely cause is a failure in the machinery or steering gear, but we simply won't know until the authorities get on board. And even then, they're unlikely to tell what's been going on for quite some time."

The reasons why the bridge collapsed

Civil engineer Julian Carter told Sky News that bridges like the one in Baltimore are "very weak in places". He explains his point by saying: "It turns out with a lot of these structures – and we have similar ones in the UK – that they're actually quite simple in concept... but they're very weak in some places."

Other large bridges may have central piers where the main structure is disconnected from the rest, but in this case the interconnected nature of the bridge means that "when you remove one part of it, the interconnected system fails".

Carter argues that the bridge structure was likely tested at some point by the collision of ships. It may then have proved suitable for the time but container ships are now "twice the size".

Finally, the civil engineer said in his interview that he expects that many ports and bridge piers will have to be assessed, once again, for the risk of similar situations occurring again.

Footage of the bridge collapse

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What evidence is there of the ship that hit the bridge

The container ship, known as the Dali, was heading to Colombo in Sri Lanka at the time of the collision. It appears to have sustained damage, a fire service official told Sky News affiliate CNBC.

On the other hand, the ship's management company Synergy Marine Group said that all crew members on board have been accounted for and no injuries have been reported.

Also, a fire official confirmed that the Singapore-flagged Dali ship collided with one of the piers of the Key Bridge. The company said the exact cause of the incident has yet to be determined.

How the ship lost its power

CCTV footage and marine surveillance data show the container ship lost power for about 60 seconds.

According to the video, the ship that hit the bridge lost power about four minutes before hitting the bridge. He appeared to adjust his course and start smoking before the crash.