HomeTop StoriesThe largest Key Bridge section yet was pulled from the Patapsco River...

The largest Key Bridge section yet was pulled from the Patapsco River this weekend. Here’s how.

Dangling from one of the largest floating cranes on the East Coast, the largest portion yet of the fallen Francis Scott Key Bridge was brought ashore Sunday.

The roughly 450-ton piece of truss sat at a processing yard in Tradepoint Atlantic in Baltimore County Monday morning, orange sparks flying as workers sawed through the steel. A few minutes later, a claw-like shear attached to an excavator pulled on a weakened steel member, folding an entire triangular piece of truss onto the ground.

“To date, this is the largest steel elevator we’ve ever had,” said James Harkness, chief engineer of the Maryland Transportation Authority. “When they brought it in yesterday they actually had to cut it in half because it was about 100 feet tall. So to make it manageable for the crews working at the processing yard, they shortened it.”

Officials estimate there is a total of 50,000 tons of debris in the Patapsco River, blocking access to the navigation channel leading to the Port of Baltimore. The debris is steadily coming ashore at Sparrows Point and once it is cut, it is sent to local recycling facilities.

While there is still a mountain to climb, this weekend’s operation to land the major chunk is another milestone, said Navy Capt. Sal Suarez, the service’s salvage and diving supervisor.

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“Once I figured all that out, it went as planned. You are a little bit ahead – a day ahead – of schedule,” Suarez said. “It was, I don’t want to say festive, but it’s going in the right direction. Everyone is happy with that.”

Divers spent “days” studying and working on the portion of the bridge truss that was submerged in the Patapsco, Suarez said. Under the water, crews used a diamond wire saw to cut it into a manageable section and then attached the rigging so the massive Chesapeake 1000 crane could pull its first bridge section out of the water and all the way to shore. The successful lift was a relief, Suarez said.

“They were pretty sure they had cut all the trusses – that turned out to be the case – but if they had missed one they would have had to stop the lift, go back down and cut the other truss,” he said.

The section may also have been several hundred tons heavier, Suarez said, but pieces of the roadway fell to the bottom, instead of rising with the steel.

Meanwhile, crews are still working to refloat the Dali, the giant cargo ship that toppled the bridge with more than a thousand containers on board, en route to Sri Lanka.

So far, they have removed about 40 containers, said Joseph Farrell, CEO of Resolve Marine, the maritime salvage contractor assigned to the Dali. Resolve believes it will have to remove about 140 containers to refloat the ship.

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The ship has power, but the bow thruster is not operational, Farrell said. The crash severed electrical wiring connected to the bow thruster, a propeller-shaped system that helps maneuver the ship at lower speeds. The crew hopes to get the bow thruster back online.

“If we can do that, that’s a bonus,” Farrell said. “We don’t need it. It just helps that you don’t have to have a tug on the bow while floating.”

The plan is for tugboats to eventually escort the Dali back to a berth in the Port of Baltimore, Farrell said.

In the meantime, members of the ship’s crew remain on board and complete their “daily duties” of keeping the ship running, Farrell said.

News broke Monday that the FBI had boarded the ship and launched a criminal investigation into the crash, joining investigations already underway by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard.

Since the March 26 collapse, dive teams have faced difficult conditions, said Robyn Bianchi, an assistant mountain master at New Jersey-based Donjon Marine Co., who has worked at the site.

One of the biggest problems, she said, was poor visibility in murky Patapsco, caused by the ebb and flow of the tides, which constantly stir up mud at the collapse site.

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From a “dive hut” on a barge at the collapse site, Bianchi said she was able to watch video footage directly from the divers – but there isn’t much to see.

“A lot of times it’s probably up to here,” Bianchi said, moving her hand about a foot from her face.

There’s also the challenge of navigating an underwater environment littered with debris, including chunks of concrete and rebar that could snag a diver’s breathing tube, which they call an “umbilical cord,” Bianchi said.

Plus, there’s the emotional weight of diving at the site where six people died. One of Bianchi’s recovery divers located human remains during a dive, she said, one of three bodies recovered from the river so far.

The diver surfaced and helped lead Maryland State Police divers to the body, Bianchi said.

“If we can try to help our divers, who will be on this project for a long time, to not really have to see that, something that will have a mental effect on them, we try to keep that out. Bianchi said.

“It’s not something we do often,” she said. “But salvage divers are prepared for that.”


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