Cargo Ship Had Blackout Hours Before Hitting Bridge

NTSB releases detailed account of Baltimore disaster
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 14, 2024 9:01 PM CDT
Cargo Ship Had Blackout Hours Before Hitting Bridge
Remnants of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge and the cargo ship Dali are seen, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Baltimore.   (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

The cargo ship Dali experienced an electrical blackout about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore and yet again shortly before it slammed into the Francis Key Bridge and killed six construction workers, federal investigators said Tuesday, providing the most detailed account yet of the tragedy. More, from the AP:

  • The power outage occurred after a crew member mistakenly closed an exhaust damper, causing the ship's engine to stall, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said in their preliminary report. Shortly after leaving Baltimore, the ship crashed into one of the bridge's supporting columns because another power outage caused it to lose steering at the exact worst moment.

  • The report provides new details about how the ship's crew addressed the power issues it experienced while still docked in Baltimore. A full investigation could take a year or more, according to the safety board. The FBI has also launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the collapse.
  • After the initial blackout caused by the closed exhaust damper, investigators say a backup generator automatically came on. It continued to run for a short period—until insufficient fuel pressure caused it to kick off again, resulting in a second blackout. That's when crew members made changes to the ship's electrical configuration, switching from one transformer and breaker system it had been using for several months to another that was in use upon its departure, according to the report.

  • According to the preliminary report, at 1:25am on March 26, when the Dali was a little over half a mile away from the bridge, a primary electrical breaker that fed most of the ship's equipment and lighting unexpectedly tripped, causing the ship to lose power. The main propulsion diesel engine shut down after the pumps lost power. The ship's crew was able to restore power, then called for an assist from tug boats and the senior pilot ordered the ship's anchor to be dropped. A second blackout then occurred and a marine radio call was made to warn waterborne traffic. The ship then struck a main support pier on the bridge, causing it to collapse within seconds.
  • Investigators stopped short of drawing a direct line between the earlier power issues and the blackout that ultimately caused the bridge collapse. "The NTSB is still investigating the electrical configuration following the first in-port blackout and potential impacts on the events during the accident voyage," investigators wrote.
On Monday, crews conducted a controlled demolition to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge.

(More Baltimore bridge collapse stories.)

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