The investigation continues into 4 power outages on board that caused the Baltimore Bridge to collapse

The power outages the container ship Daly experienced before leaving the Port of Baltimore were “mechanically different” from the ones that led to the fatal collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge hours later, according to congressional testimony Wednesday.

The remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the freighter Daly can be seen in this photo taken Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Baltimore (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)(AP/Steve Ruark)

BALTIMORE (AP) — The power outage suffered by the container ship Daly before leaving the Port of Baltimore was “mechanically different” than the one that led to the fatal collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge hours later, according to congressional testimony Wednesday.

“Two were related to routine maintenance at the port. Two involved unexpected tripping of circuit breakers during the incident voyage, National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy testified.

The Daly was bound for Sri Lanka, loaded with shipping containers and enough supplies for a month-long voyage. Shortly after leaving Baltimore Harbor early on March 26, the ship lost power and propulsion and struck one of the bridge’s supporting columns, killing six construction workers.

Homendy’s comments came a day after the safety board issued its initial report on the bridge collapse. A full investigation may take a year or more.

The ship’s first power outage occurred after a crew member accidentally closed the exhaust damper while performing maintenance in port, causing one of the diesel engines to shut down, according to the report. A backup generator was automatically turned on and continued to operate for a short time – until insufficient fuel pressure triggered it again, causing another power outage.

While recovering from the power outage, crew members made changes to the ship’s electrical configuration, switching to a different transformer and set of breakers, according to safety investigators.

“Switching breakers is not unusual, but it may have affected operations the day after the accident flight,” Homendy testified Wednesday morning before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

She said the council is still gathering more information about the exact cause of the various power outages. The FBI also launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the crash.

When the breakers tripped as Daly approached the bridge, Homendy said the ship’s emergency generator kicked in. This generator can power the ship’s lights, radio, and other operations, but it cannot restore propulsion.

“Without the propeller rotation, the rudder was less effective,” Homendy said. “They were basically drifting.”

Although there is redundancy in the ship’s systems, she said it is no different from other ships in terms of the functions of its emergency generator and other factors. Investigators are working closely with Hyundai, the manufacturer of Daly’s electrical system, to determine what went wrong after it left the Port of Baltimore, she said.

“We are still at the scene and evaluating everything related to this accident,” Homendy said.

It also reiterated another finding of the report, which said testing of the ship’s fuel revealed no concerns about its quality.

The safety board began its investigation almost immediately after the collapse, which left six crew members falling to their deaths on the road. Investigators boarded the ship to document the scene of the accident and collect evidence, including the ship’s data recorder and information from its engine room.

The preliminary report details the chaotic moments before the bridge collapsed as crew members scrambled to address a series of electrical faults that came in quick succession as disaster approached.

At 1:25 a.m. on March 26, when Daly was just over a half-mile from the bridge, the electrical breakers powering most of the ship’s equipment and lighting unexpectedly tripped, causing a power outage. The main propulsion diesel engine shuts down automatically after the cooling pumps lose power, and the ship loses steering.

The report says crew members were able to temporarily restore power by manually closing tripped breakers.

The ship was less than a quarter mile from the bridge when it experienced a second power outage due to more tripped breakers. The crew restored power again, but it was too late to avoid hitting the bridge.

A last-minute distress call from the ship allowed police to stop traffic, but they did not have enough time to warn a team of construction workers who were filling potholes on the bridge. One man was rescued from the water. The road maintenance inspector also survived by escaping to safety in the moments before the bridge fell.

The last bodies of the six victims were recovered from the underwater wreckage last week.

On Monday, crews conducted a controlled demolition operation to break the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge, which fell onto the front of the Daly River. The ship is expected to be refloated and returned to the Port of Baltimore early next week, officials said on Wednesday.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.

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