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Ship that collapsed Key Bridge lost power twice the day before crash, report finds

BALTIMORE — Two times the day before a massive cargo ship struck and destroyed Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, the vessel lost power completely, federal safety investigators have found.

A series of electrical breaker failures aboard the 984-foot Dali also caused it to lose power and propulsion twice within about half a mile of the bridge before it struck around 1:30 a.m. on March 26, causing most of the 1.6 mile span to immediately collapse into the Patapsco River, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released Tuesday.

The report from the federal agency, which investigates transportation disasters with an aim of preventing future tragedies, provided the clearest picture yet of the days and moments before the disaster that left six construction workers dead, disrupted operations at the bustling Port of Baltimore and permanently altered the city’s skyline.

The NTSB’s preliminary report includes facts gathered during its investigation, which began hours after the Key Bridge fell, but no analysis. The latter comes in a final report that can take one to two years to complete. The agency has not yet determined a probable cause for the accident.

The report did not identify specific flaws in the pier protection system for the Key Bridge, but did note that the Dali struck the pier and its fender system, without contacting the “dolphin” or its fenders. Dolphins were constructed to protect the piers supporting the bridge.

Investigators are “immediately” assessing other bridges owned by the Maryland Transportation Authority, according to the report. That agency is “studying short-term and long-term options for upgrades” to the Bay Bridge’s existing protection system, it said.

The report also offered some new details about the results of early tests. The entire crew of the Dali tested negative for alcohol, as did the senior and apprentice pilots aboard the ship. Fuel samples from the Dali’s fuel tanks and other supplies were tested and found to be in compliance with international standards, the report said.

Released seven weeks after the bridge fell, the report comes against a different backdrop.

The FBI launched a criminal investigation, with agents raiding the Dali last month and confiscating the crew’s cell phones. Maryland Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the state’s Department of Labor that investigates workplace accidents and deaths, also opened a probe into Brawner Builders, the company which employed the workers on the bridge.

The victims were José Mynor López, 37, originally from Guatemala; Dorlian Castillo Cabrera, 26, originally from Guatemala; Maynor Suazo Sandoval, 38, originally from Honduras; Alejandro Hernández Fuentes, 35, originally from Mexico; Carlos Daniel Hernandez, who was in his 20s and was originally from Mexico; and Miguel Ángel Luna González, 49 and originally from El Salvador.

A seventh member of the construction crew survived the collapse, while a state inspector was able to scamper to safety before the ship struck.

Officials have made substantial progress in cleanup efforts, with divers recovering the sixth and final victim — Mynor López — from the depths of the Patapsco River last week and engineers deploying explosive charges Monday to remove the span of bridge draped over the Dali’s bow — one of the last steps before the ship can leave the waterway.

Officials have opened several temporary channels to vessel traffic while working to clear remaining bridge debris from the McHenry Shipping Channel, which they have pledged to reopen by the end of May. A new bridge is expected to take about four years to complete and is estimated to cost between $1.7 and $1.9 million.

The Singaporean companies that own and manage the Dali moved to limit their liability in the bridge collapse, but the City of Baltimore and businesses have followed up with lawsuits alleging they allowed an unseaworthy ship to sail, causing the deadly catastrophe that disrupted the critical economic engine that the port is for Baltimore and beyond.

The report also comes one day before NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy is slated to testify at a hearing about the disaster in the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Homendy previously spoke about the bridge collapse at her confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. At the time, she said investigators had called in representatives from the Dali’s Korean manufacturer, Hyundai, to help download data related to its electrical power system and circuit breakers.


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