Ship’s mayday allowed "heroes" to stop traffic before Baltimore bridge collapse

As a cargo ship plowed through the darkness towards Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning, its crew was powerless to change direction. But they were able to get out an emergency call that saved lives, Maryland’s governor said.

It was around 1:30 a.m. when the cargo ship Dali hit one of the supports of the Key Bridge, sending the entire span plunging into the frigid waters of the Patapsco River. According to investigators, the crew was able to radio a mayday message, warning that they had lost power and were unable to steer the 985-foot-long vessel.


Security forces take measures and close the roads leading to the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge after a collision with a cargo ship in Baltimore, Maryland, United States on March 26, 2024. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Moments later, a police dispatcher put out a call asking officers to stop all traffic on Interstate 695, according to Maryland Transportation Authority first responder radio traffic obtained from the archive by the Associated Press.

Gov. Wes Moore said that was enough to prevent at least some vehicles from being on the bridge as it collapsed.

"We’re thankful that between the mayday and the collapse, we had officials who were able to begin to stop the flow of traffic so more cars were not up on the bridge," Moore said.


A traffic warning sign is displayed on I-95 after a cargo ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse on March 26, 2024 in North East, Maryland. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

A construction crew was working on the bridge at the time of the collapse. One officer who stopped traffic radioed that he was going to drive onto the bridge to alert the construction workers. But seconds later, a frantic officer said: "The whole bridge just fell down. Start, start whoever, everybody ... the whole bridge just collapsed."

While two people were rescued, six workers were missing and later presumed dead by their employer.

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The Key Bridge carries I-695 across the river east of downtown Baltimore and as many as 35,000 people cross the span each day. 

It’s still not clear how many, if any, vehicles may have been on the bridge as it collapsed – a state official declined to speculate Tuesday morning – but the governor was sure that it could have been much worse.

"We had a ship that was coming in at 8 knots, so coming at a very rapid speed," Moore explained. "I have to say I'm thankful for the folks who – once the warning came up and once the notification came up that there was a mayday – who, literally by being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night."

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