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Dali's four power failures remain focus of Key Bridge collapse investigation as NTSB chair testifies at congressional hearing

Dali's four power failures remain focus of Key Bridge collapse investigation as NTSB chair testifies
Dali's four power failures remain focus of Key Bridge collapse investigation as NTSB chair testifies 02:28

BALTIMORE -- The National Transportation Safety Board chair made her first public comments since the release of a preliminary report into the Key Bridge collapse and focused on the multiple power failures onboard the Dali. 

Jennifer Homendy said investigators are looking into whether two power failures onboard the Dali the day before the collision contributed to the disaster.

"While recovering from the second blackout, the crew switched from a different transformer instead of breakers from those that had been in use for several months," Homendy said. "Switching breakers is not unusual but may have affected operations the very next day on the accident voyage."

The moments leading up to the crash

The Dali lost power twice on March 25th, once due to the crew failing to open an exhaust damper during maintenance. The crew then adjusted the electrical configuration.

"This effectively blocked the engine exhaust gasses from traveling out of the vessel's stack causing the engine to stall," Homendy said. 

Still, the captain declared the Dali to be in "good working order" before heading from the Port of Baltimore on March 26th.

The Dali then experienced a power failure just three ship-lengths from the bridge. 

The crew scrambled to restore power. Then, it went out again just one shop-length from the bridge.

The emergency generator was not enough to get any propulsion and place the propeller and steering systems back online to move the massive cargo vessel away from the Key Bridge.

"If you wanted to regain propulsion through any kind of emergency generator, it would literally take a six-story generator on a vessel to do that," Homendy told lawmakers.

She said they were "essentially drifting."

What's next?

Members of the House Transportation Committee spoke about recouping costs from the disaster. They are expected to reach close to $2 billion. 

"It took ten years to get $19 million. If that's the average time it takes to get $19 million, we'll all be dead by the time we get the money back from this ocean carrier," said Rick Larsen (D-Washington), referencing a prolonged legal battle over a bridge incident in his state. 

Maryland lawmakers are asking Congress to fully fund a new bridge.

Could this have been prevented?

They asked Homendy whether the Key Bridge was properly protected.

"You have a bridge that was opened in 1977, and over time, it's not the bridge that's getting larger. It's not the waterway that's getting larger. It's the vessels that are getting larger," she said. 

Lawmakers also wanted to know if anything could have been done to warn and save the lives of six construction workers on the bridge that morning who plunged into the Patapsco River.

"Other bridge structures, they have advanced warning systems, and we'll look at that as part of our investigation, but I will just say from the time the pilot's dispatcher called MDTA police and the bridge was ordered closed was 52 seconds. 52 seconds. It was almost impossible in that situation to get a longer time," Homendy said.

You can read the full NTSB preliminary report here.

You can watch Wednesday's hearing here.

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