First presumed victim of Baltimore bridge collapse named by family

First presumed victim of Baltimore bridge collapse named by family
Search and rescue efforts suspended for six people following Baltimore bridge collapse
Aljazeera / VideoElephant

The collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge is more than the loss of an iconic landmark. In the destruction, half a dozen people are believed to have lost their lives, including a father of six.

In the early hours of Tuesday, a cargo ship lost power and rammed into the bridge, buckling it in a manner of seconds and sending it plunging into the river.

In the immediate aftermath, it was reported that two people had been rescued from the water with others still missing.

The six missing, who were part of a construction crew filling potholes on the bridge, are now presumed dead.

The search for the workers was suspended on Tuesday evening (local time), 18 hours after they were thrown from the fallen landmark into the bone-chilling waters at the mouth of the Patapsco River.

Maryland State Police and US Coast Guard officials said a lack of visibility and increasingly treacherous currents in the channel made continued search efforts too risky to continue overnight.

Late last night (26 March), state police Colonel Roland Butler told reporters that at 6am local time on Wednesday, they were “hoping to put divers in the water and begin a more detailed search to do our very best to recover those six missing people.”

However, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath also stressed at the same briefing: "We do not believe that we're going to find any of these individuals alive.”

A drone view of the Dali cargo vessel, which crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse(Reuters)

Among those feared dead is Miguel Luna, 49, a father of six from El Salvador, NBC Washingtonreports.

Speaking to Telemundo 44, his wife María del Carmen Castellón said her heart was "broken" because she was forced to presume the worst.

“[The authorities] only tell us that we have to wait, that for now, they can’t give us information,” she said before the coast guard's sombre update about calling off rescue efforts.

“[We feel] devastated, devastated because our heart is broken, because we don’t know if they’ve rescued them yet. We’re just waiting to hear any news.“

Meanwhile, Guatemala’s consulate in Maryland said in a statement that two of the missing were citizens of the Central American nation. It didn’t provide their names but said consular officials were in contact with authorities and assisting the families.

Elsewhere, Honduras’ Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio García told The Associated Press that a Honduran citizen, Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, was missing. He said he had been in contact with Suazo’s family.

And the Washington Consulate of Mexico announced via X/Twitter that citizens of that nation were also among the missing. It didn’t say how many.

Miguel Luna had reportedly worked for Brawner Builders for 15 years(Family handout via NBC)

Jeffrey Pritzker, executive vice president of Brawner Builders, the company that employed the victims, explained the crew was working in the middle of the bridge when it came down.

“This was so completely unforeseen,” he said. “We don’t know what else to say. We take such great pride in safety, and we have cones and signs and lights and barriers and flaggers.”

Jesus Campos, who said he has worked for Brawner Builders for years and knows members of the crew, said he was told they were on a break and some were sitting in their trucks.

“Watching what’s happening makes my heart hurt," he told NBC. "We’re human beings and they’re my coworkers."He added: “It could’ve been me. Around a month ago I was working on the bridge… we had been moved to the day shift and they went at night."

Speaking of his colleagues, he said: "They’re fathers. They’re people who come to earn their daily bread."And yet, he admitted he didn't believe his colleagues could have been evacuated in time.

“It happened in the blink of an eye,” he said. "It couldn’t be done."

Meanwhile, Father Ako Walker, a Roman Catholic priest at Sacred Heart of Jesus, said he spent time with the families of the missing workers as they waited for news of their loved ones.

“You can see the pain etched on their faces,” he said.

People embrace during a vigil for the bridge collapse's victims at the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Baltimore(Getty Images)

Authorities later confirmed that rescuers had pulled two people out of the water, one of whom was treated at a hospital and discharged hours later.

Multiple vehicles also hurtled into the river, although authorities did not believe anyone was inside.

“It looked like something out of an action movie,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said, calling it “an unthinkable tragedy.”

A police dispatcher reportedly put out a call just before the collapse saying a ship had lost its steering and asked officers to stop all traffic on the bridge.

One officer who stopped traffic radioed that he was going to drive onto the bridge to alert the construction crew. But seconds later, a frantic officer said: “The whole bridge just fell down. Start, start whoever, everybody ... the whole bridge just collapsed.”

On a separate radio channel for maintenance and construction workers, someone said officers were stopping traffic because a ship had lost steering. There was no follow-up order to evacuate, and 30 seconds later the bridge fell and the channel went silent.

From 1960 to 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge collisions, according to the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.

Tuesday’s disaster has forced the indefinite closure of the Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest in the US Eastern Seaboard. This is set to create a traffic quagmire for Baltimore and the surrounding region for months if not years.

“Losing this bridge will devastate the entire area, as well as the entire East Coast,” state Senator Johnny Ray Salling said.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at a news conference that it was too soon to estimate how long it will take to clear the channel, which is about 50 feet (15 metres) deep.

“I do not know of a bridge that has been constructed to withstand a direct impact from a vessel of this size,” he said.

A satellite image shows the container ship striking the bridge(Maxaar Technologies via AP)

The Dali, which was headed from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka and flying under a Singapore flag, is about 985 feet (300 metres) long and about 157 feet (48 metres) wide, according to data from Marine Traffic.

Synergy Marine Group, which manages the ship, confirmed that it hit a pillar of the bridge at about 1:30 am while in control of one or more pilots, who are local specialists who help guide vessels safely into and out of ports. The ship is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd.

Synergy said all crew members and the two pilots on board were accounted for, and there were no reports of any injuries.

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