Explosives break up Key Bridge section atop Dali, readying to refloat vessel (2024)

There was a boom, several plumes of smoke and then a splash as millions of pounds of Francis Scott Key Bridge debris fell Monday evening into the Patapsco River.

Crews had previously placed linear-shaped charges — explosive cutting devices — on the large piece of the bridge that dropped March 26 onto the bow of the Dali after the ship struck one of the bridge’s supporting piers. When detonated at 5:01 p.m. Monday, approximately 50 small explosives sliced the steel into chunks, many of which tumbled into the water.

From nearby Fort Armistead Park, members of the media heard the thunderous, baritone explosion and observed several simultaneous bursts of flame and then puffs of smoke. The entire detonation lasted less than 10 seconds.

A large portion of the bridge broke away and slid further into the river, while other portions remained on the front of the Dali, where they will be removed using the Chesapeake 1000 crane, according to Col. Estee Pinchasin of the Army Corps of Engineers. She said Monday night that officials were still “assessing” how the detonation went. Authorities need to ensure, for example, that all of the charges were detonated so there’s no risk of something going off later.

Crews, using both divers and drones, will survey the 984-foot ship in the coming days and remove debris from the bow. In roughly two days, tugboats will move it to the Port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal.

It has been nearly 50 days since the Key Bridge collapsed from Baltimore’s skyline and the Dali became a mainstay of the Patapsco River, along with 50,000 tons of concrete and steel that used to be the bridge. Crews have cleared much of the debris from the shipping channel, however, and the Coast Guard’s captain of the port, David O’Connell, called Monday’s detonation “a major milestone in the recovery effort.” Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath has previously likened the recovery process to a marathon and Monday, he said, was another step.

“To me, this feels like we are approaching that point in a marathon when you feel like you’ve hit the wall and then once you get past that wall, then it’s all downhill from there,” he told The Baltimore Sun shortly after the blast. “I really feel like this was part of that wall and when we remove the Dali, then it’s all downhill from there as far as the speed goes. Got all the hard part behind you — there’s still plenty of work to do — but you know that you’re going to get it done.”

Some of the debris on the Dali will be removed in the next couple of days, but pieces of roadway will remain on the ship as it is pulled to the port’s Seagirt Marine Terminal by four tugboats, O’Connell said. The ship will be surveyed there for four to six weeks and receive temporary fixes before heading to Norfolk, Virginia, he said, again likely with the aid of tugboats.

A large gash in the front of the ship will not be repaired in Baltimore; that will come later, when the vessel is rehabilitated in Norfolk.

The 21-member crew remained on board Monday evening, sheltered in place as the explosives were detonated, officials said.

The removal of what officials referred to as Section 4 of the bridge marked a pivotal moment in what has been a massive recovery and salvage operation launched after the catastrophe, which killed six construction workers who were repairing potholes on the span. It was just last week that divers recovered the body of the last victim.

Ahead of the detonation, salvage workers prepared the bridge section for what Key Bridge Unified Command characterized as a surgically precise operation. They analyzed where to install the small explosives, sliced into the steel beams of the truss, dropped in the charges and then encased them with wrapping similar to large pieces of tape.

The controlled explosion was initially scheduled for Saturday, but was delayed when weather affected the preparations. On Sunday afternoon, it was postponed again to the following day. It took place Monday evening to coincide with low tide, and the eventual refloating of the vessel is expected to come during a high tide.

Anyone within 2,000 yards of the blast site, which included a few businesses on Hawkins Point, was asked to wear ear protection against the sound, which officials compared to a fireworks display or thunder.

Crews previously removed some of the containers and rearranged items on the Dali so that once the ship was relieved of the 8-million to 12-million pound section pinning it down, it would remain stable.

With the bridge section broken into more manageable chunks, cranes will later hoist them out of the water to be hauled away.

Crews need to inspect the Dali in the Patapsco River, as well as the surrounding wreckage and the riverbed. Additionally, crews will continue to try to avoid damaging a BG&E pipeline, which was purged of its gas, and an old water main beneath the riverbed near the ship.

Exactly when the ship will be make the 2-nautical mile journey back to the port is unknown.

An email obtained late last week by The Sun from an attorney representing the ship’s owner, Grace Ocean, and its manager, Synergy Marine, told those who have made claims against the companies and want to inspect the ship that the National Transportation Safety Board was expected on board Tuesday and Wednesday at the port. The NTSB and the FBI are among the federal and state agencies investigating the bridge collapse. The email told claimants they would be allowed on board starting May 20, but that was before the blasting operation was postponed to Sunday and then Monday.

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Baltimore City has filed a claim against the shipping companies, saying they should be held fully liable for the collapse. Additionally, an Essex-based publisher filed suit, claiming the incident has caused it and other companies a loss of business.

As authorities prepare to refloat the Dali, crews continue to clear the federal channel using huge cranes and other equipment in an effort to fully restore ship traffic to the port, one of the East Coast’s busiest.

Temporary channels have allowed ships to enter and leave the port, but the Army Corps expects to reopen the permanent 700-foot wide, 50-foot deep channel by the end of this month.

Replacing the bridge is expected to take close to $2 billion and just over four years. President Joe Biden, a Democrat who will seek re-election this fall, has promised that the federal government will foot the bill.

Explosives break up Key Bridge section atop Dali, readying to refloat vessel (2024)
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