‘Black box’ data recorder recovered from ship that struck Baltimore bridge as recovery efforts continue

Mar 27, 2024, 9:45 AM | Updated: 9:47 am

In an aerial view, cargo ship Dali is seen after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key ...

In an aerial view, cargo ship Dali is seen after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, in Baltimore, Maryland. Mandatory Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

(CNN) — The US Coast Guard has suspended search and rescue efforts for six people who were on the Francis Scott Key Bridge when it collapsed early Tuesday following a major cargo boat collision. Recovery efforts are now underway for the missing people, who are presumed dead. 

Here’s the latest.

  • The investigation: A team from with the National Transportation Safety Board went aboard the ship late Tuesday night to gather evidence for their investigation, agency Chair Jennifer Homendy told CNN on Wednesday. Officials obtained the ship’s data recorder, or black box, which Homendy said will help investigators develop a timeline of events leading up to the crashThe agency will also interview members of the ship’s crew, she said. Sources familiar with the probe say it will look into whether contaminated fuel played a role in what happened, the Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Coast Guard assessing hazmat threat: The US Coast Guard is examining damaged shipping containers, some containing potentially hazardous materials, according to a US government document obtained by CNN and a US official familiar with the matter. The team is also examining the ship’s manifest to determine if any materials on board may pose a health risk, the official said.
  • Search and recovery efforts continue: Divers resumed search efforts Wednesday, which were paused overnight due to dangerous conditions, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore told CNN. Moore praised the divers who are working in “pitch dark conditions, in frigid temperatures, in high tides and high winds, with mangled metal all around them.”
  • Details emerge on those missing: Local authorities have yet to confirm the identities of those missing but have said they include construction workers who were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. Miguel Luna, from El Salvador, is among those unaccounted for, according to the nonprofit CASA. And Honduran man Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval is also missing, his brother told CNN. Two Guatemalans and an unknown number of people from Mexico are also missing, foreign officials from those countries said.
  • Ship blacked out before crash: Just minutes before impact, there was a “total blackout” of engine and electrical power on the ship, according to Clay Diamond, executive director of the American Pilots Association. Diamond pointed out that while the lights on the boat could be seen turning back on – likely due to an emergency generator – the ship’s engines never recovered. “It’s not unheard of for there to be an engine and generator casualty like it happened here, it just happened at the exact wrong time and place,” he said.
  • Vital shipping port remains closed: After search efforts conclude, a top priority will be clearing the channel so the Port of Baltimore can reopen, US Sen. Chris Van Hollen told CNN on Tuesday. He noted around four ships cannot leave the port and approximately 20 others are waiting to get in. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg said there is “no question that this will be a major and protracted impact to supply chains. It’s too soon to offer estimates on what it will take to clear the channel and reopen the port.”
  • Reconstruction has hefty price tag: Buttigieg said rebuilding the bridge will “not be quick” and will certainly be costly. President Joe Biden also called on Congress to support recovery efforts and said he intends for the federal government to cover the full repair costs.
  • Questions over the ship and management company: The vessel, managed by the Synergy Marine Group, was briefly held in Chile last June over a propulsion issue, according to a spokesperson for the Chilean Navy. Ships managed by the Synergy Marine Group have been involved in at least three deadly incidents since 2018 in Australia, Singapore and the Philippines, according to officials in those countries.
  • Questions over accountability: Buttigieg said that if private companies are responsible for the crash, they will be held accountable. “To be clear: if any private party is responsible and accountable for this, then they will be held accountable,” he told CNN.

LIVE UPDATES: Baltimore bridge collapses after ship collision

What we know about the victims

The Key Bridge was toppled shortly before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday after the hulking shipping container lost power and smashed into one of the bridge’s support columns, sending people and cars into the frigid Patapsco River.

Eight construction workers were believed to be mending potholes on the bridge when it fell, according to officials. Two survived and were pulled from the river but the remaining six are presumed dead due to the prolonged search time and cold water conditions, they said.

Luna, the missing El Salvadoran immigrant, headed to his construction job Monday evening and has not come home, according to CASA, a nonprofit that provides services to working-class and immigrant families.

Luna is “a husband, a father of three, and has called Maryland his home for over 19 years,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guatemala said two Guatemalans are also unaccounted for: a 26-year-old from San Luis, Petén, and a 35-year-old from Camotán, Chiquimula. A Mexican Embassy official in Washington said some missing are also Mexican, though he did not say how many.

All 22 crew members of the container ship – a Singaporean-flagged vessel named Dali – are safe and accounted for, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

But the vessel – and all of its contents – still sit in the middle of the channel, its bow draped with massive pieces of the mangled steel bridge.

Moore said the port’s economic impact stretches beyond Maryland. It indirectly employs over 140,000 people and handles more foreign cargo than any other port in the country, he said.

“This isn’t just about the impact this is going to have on Maryland’s economy. This is the impact that’s going to have on our country’s economy,” he said.

“This is the farmer in Kentucky. It’s the auto dealer in Michigan. So we’ve got to prioritize being able to get that bridge rebuilt, to give them support and get this channel reopened.”

Buttigieg said he does not have an estimated reopening time for the Patapsco River channel, but is working with the US Coast Guard and other authorities to get it open as soon as possible.

“Not only do we need to get those ships in, there are some ships that are already in there that can’t get out. So, it’s very important to get that channel open,” he said.

Officials monitoring 1.8 million gallons of fuel

Federal officials are monitoring about 1.8 million gallons of fuel inside the ship for its “spill potential,” according to an unclassified memo from the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. But a US official familiar with the matter told CNN “lots would have to go wrong” for that amount of fuel to spill.

An elite Coast Guard team is examining 13 damaged containers from the crashed vessel, “some with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] and/or hazardous materials [HAZMAT] contents,” the CISA memo said. The team is also analyzing the ship’s manifest to determine what was on board and if any materials could pose a health risk, the source said.

Moore called the collapse a “catastrophic and horrific occurrence” for the state and the families of those missing, who he was able to speak with Tuesday.

“They reminded us who these individuals were – that they weren’t just special workers who were doing important work for the city and for the state, but they were people who were husbands and sons and fathers and brothers-in-law,” Moore said. “So, this is a really devastated community of families.”

Missing father’s family longs for closure

Martin Suazo’s family called him early Tuesday with devastating news. His brother, 38-year-old Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, had been doing maintenance work on Key Bridge when it collapsed into the river, he told CNN.

At first, the family held out hope, believing that Suazo would be found alive, the brother said. But now they just hope his body can be recovered so the family can have some closure and give him a proper goodbye.

Suazo is from Azacualpa, Santa Bárbara, in Honduras but has been living in the United States for the last 18 years, his brother said. He is a married father of two – an 18-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, Martin Suazo added.

He has been doing construction work but is also an entrepreneur who had started his own maintenance company. He ventured to the US in search of a better life, Martin Suazo said.

The family had been informed that the search was suspended Tuesday night due to the difficult weather conditions but were told that recovery efforts would resume Wednesday morning, the brother said.

Ship’s pilot did ‘everything he could,’ pilot association official says

The pilot of the ship did “everything that he could have done” to both slow the vessel down and keep it from drifting toward the bridge once it lost power, said Diamond, the American Pilots Association director.

Diamond told CNN he has been in close communication with the Association of Maryland Pilots regarding what unfolded on the ship in the moments leading up to the crash.

The pilot quickly gave a string of orders, calling for the anchor to be dropped and the rudder to be pulled as far left as possible, Diamond said. He also called the dispatch office to shut down traffic on the bridge – an action several officials have credited with saving lives.

Dropping the anchor was in line with standard emergency procedures, but the speed and mass of a ship determine whether or not the anchor will hold, a former pilot for the Association of Maryland Pilots told CNN.

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

But the extraordinary size of the vessel and its proximity to the bridge meant there was little hope for avoiding the crash, Diamond said.

“Those were all the appropriate steps, but it happened so quickly and with so little lead time … neither one of those maneuvers were enough,” said Diamond.

Maritime pilots, who are required to be licensed, temporarily board a ship and help guide the vessel as it maneuvers through local waters. Pilot training programs are extensive and rigorous, according to Diamond, requiring years of experience navigating ships on the water, classroom simulations, and working under the supervision of licensed pilots.

Questions over previous incidents involving ship and management company

As officials worked to investigate the collapse Tuesday, questions emerged over previous issues with the ship and its management company.

The ship was briefly held at the Port of San Antonio in Chile on June 27, 2023, when an inspector found that the pressure gauges for the vessel’s heating system were “unreadable,” a spokesperson for the Chilean Navy said.

Ships managed by the Synergy Marine Group have been involved in at least three deadly incidents since 2018 in Australia, Singapore and the Philippines, according to officials in those countries.

In 2018, a member onboard of a vessel managed by Synergy in Australia was killed in an accident involving the ship’s personnel elevator, according to a report from the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau.

In 2019, an officer on a Synergy-registered vessel in Singapore was reported missing after “likely (falling) overboard while performing inspection or cleaning jobs,” according to a report by the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau of Singapore’s Ministry of Transport.

In 2023, at least one sailor was killed when a Synergy Marine-managed tanker collided with a dredging ship in the Philippines, causing it to capsize, according to an incident report from the Philippines Coast Guard.

Synergy Marine Group is focused on the Baltimore incident, spokesperson Charlie Ridgeway told CNN in a phone call Wednesday. “It would be inappropriate to discuss any previous incidents at this time.”

CNN’s Majlie de Puy Kamp, Flora Charner, Sarah Engel, Jack Forrest, Allison Gordon, Elise Hammond, Jennifer Henderson, Betsy Klein, Jamiel Lynch, Sean Lyngaas, Mary Kay Mallonee, Lauren Mascarenhas, Pete Muntean, Tori B. Powell, Rachel Ramirez, Maria Santana, Amy Simonson, Sabrina Souza, Aditi Sangal, Bex Wright and Michael Williams contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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‘Black box’ data recorder recovered from ship that struck Baltimore bridge as recovery efforts continue