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NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Salvors with the Unified Command continue wreckage removal May 15, 2024, from the M/V Dali as they prepare to refloat the vessel, during the Key Bridge Response 2024. A salvor salvages or helps salvage a ship, cargo, etc. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Christopher Rosario)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in their preliminary report that the cargo ship Motor Vessel (M/V) Dali, which crashed into Baltimore's Key Bridge on March 26, 2024, at 0129 EDT, experienced electrical failures minutes before the crash and had experienced two blackouts a day earlier.

Here are some key parts of the timeline leading up to the Dali striking the Francis Scott Key bridge listed in the NTBS report. The entire timeline and more can be found in the link to the 24-page report.

About 0036, two tugboats, Bridget McAllister and Eric McAllister, pulled the M/V Dali away from the Seagirt Marine Terminal dock. About 0107, the vessel entered the Fort McHenry Channel. Once in the channel, the senior pilot also gave orders for the tugboats to be let go per normal practice.

About 0125, the Dali was 0.6 miles -- or three ship lengths -- from the Key Bridge when electrical breakers that fed most of the vessel's equipment and lighting unexpectedly opened, causing the first blackout to all shipboard lighting and most equipment, including the main engine cooling water pumps and steering gear pumps. The loss of electrical power stopped all three steering pumps, and, therefore, the rudder was unable to be moved, noted the report.

At 0126:39, the pilots called for tug assistance. Tug Eric McAllister was 3 miles away and immediately answered, heading toward the ship. (The tug did not reach the Dali before it struck the bridge.)

At 0129:10, Dali's starboard bow struck pier no. 17 of the Key Bridge at 6.5 knots. Six spans of the bridge (the main spans 17, 18, and 19 and spans 20, 21, and 22) subsequently collapsed into the water and across the ship's bow. A Dali crewmember, who was on the bow at the time of the accident, told investigators that, as he was releasing the brake on the port anchor, he had to escape from the falling bridge before he was able to reapply the brake. "Due to ongoing salvage efforts, the amount of anchor chain paid out is still unknown," said the NTSB.

About 0134, the Coast Guard issued an urgent marine information broadcast, requesting assistance from passing traffic. The first Coast Guard boats were on scene about 0151. Multiple agencies searched for survivors throughout March 26. The Coast Guard suspended the active search that evening, and efforts then transitioned to recovery. Six victims were later recovered by divers.

The NTSB said in the report they "will continue evaluating the design and operation of the Dali's power distribution system (including its breakers). Examination of damage to the vessel will continue when the ship is clear of debris and moved to a shoreside facility."

Planned areas of investigation include oceangoing vessels' propulsion and electrical systems, the frequency and causes of vessel contacts with bridges over navigable waters; and bridge-strike mitigation measures such as a combination of vessel-size restrictions, vessel-assist tugs, and bridge-pier protection, according to the report.

"The investigation of all aspects of the accident is ongoing as we

determine the probable cause," said the NTSB.


Unified Command reported on May 16 that salvage teams continued wreckage removal at the Francis Scott Key bridge site after the controlled demolition on May 13. Officials are awaiting results from a dive survey before proceeding with plans to re-float and move the M/V Dali to Seagirt Marine Terminal in the Port of Baltimore.

"This diver inspection is a necessary and vital step in the complicated process of reopening the Fort McHenry Federal Channel in a manner that mitigates risk to the vessel once it's carefully refloated and moved from its current position," said Unified Command officials. "To permit safe diver access to the Patapsco riverbed next to the vessel, Unified Command cranes must first remove submerged and unstable wreckage from the controlled demolition. Safety also dictates the securing or removal of severely damaged containers and overhanging wreckage from the initial bridge collapse onto the deck of the M/V Dali. This process is already underway and should be complete in the days ahead."

Nearly 50% of the 700-foot-wide Fort McHenry Federal Channel had already been cleared to an operational depth of 48 feet before the controlled demolition. The federal channel is expected to be fully capable of supporting all commercial vessels in and out of the Port of Baltimore to a minimum operational depth of 50 feet in the weeks ahead, noted the press release.

Update May 20, 2024: Early Monday morning the M/V Dali was refloated and aided by five tugs as it was taken back to the Seagirt Marine Terminal dock, where it originally left prior to the destruction of the Francis Scott Key bridge on March 26, 2024. According to various news reports, the crew of the Dali will remain on board because their visas have expired. As stated above, the NTSB investigation is still ongoing.

Link to video removal of bridge wreckage 5-15-24:…

Link to Unified Command 5-17 press release and more pictures:…

Link to the entire NTSB preliminary report:…

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