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Wrecked section of Baltimore bridge is buried in mud

The clearing of the main channel leading to the Port of Baltimore will be a complex, expensive and time-consuming operation, the Unified Command (UC) handling the operation has warned.

It said on Tuesday April 2nd that the collapsed centre span of the Francis Scott Key Bridge disaster has warned that clearing Baltimore’s main ship channel was resting on the bottom as a tangled mess of steel I-beams. To make things more difficult, it is buried in the soft mud of the bottom.

Colonel Estee S. Pinchasin, commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore district, said that surveys had revealed the sunken span to be far more extensively damaged than could have been imagined. “It’s not just sitting on the seabed, it’s actually below the mud line,” said Pinchasin in a press conference, adding that “the state of that wreckage makes it very difficult to figure out where to cut, how to cut, in order to put it into bite sized pieces [for hoisting].”

While the evaluation of the span segments above the water would be difficult to evaluate, the section at the very bottom of the channel would be exceptionally hard to process in the same way, she said.

It was possible that the removal plan would not involve cutting, because it would entail too much danger to personnel. Pinchasin said that the UC was instead mobilizing equipment that could undertake an “additional type of lift”, noting that “this is something that the salvage community knows how to do”.

More dive surveys with sonar equipment are under way to assist with the assessment. All survey data from all government and industry partners in the unified command is being compiled into one database to build the most accurate possible picture of the wreckage. “With each layer, we’re getting a much better picture of what it’s going to take to lift that up”, Pinchasin said.

The tangled wreckage in the centre of the channel was described by Pinchasin as “extremely unforgiving” and dangerous for dive teams to work near. Salvage divers were operating in near-darkness and zero visibility, relying on verbal navigation cues from sonar-equipped boat teams on the surface.