Veteran Photojournalist Says Baltimore Bridge Collapse Is One of the Worst Things He’s Ever Seen

Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse photograph

A Baltimore photojournalist who covered the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse spoke about the impact of documenting such an event, calling it one of the worst things he’s seen in his years working.

“This is up there,” James Searls told WWLTV, a New Orleans-based CBS affiliate, in an interview with Devin Bartolotta. “This is easily in the top three, top five of the worst things I’ve had to see.”

At about 1:30 AM Tuesday, a cargo ship hit the Key Bridge, which still had vehicles moving across at the time of the impact. Searls told WWLTV he got the call to cover the incident at 3:15 AM and was there within the hour, marking the start of a more than 15-hour shift. Searls describes seeing vehicles and the bridge’s metal underwater as the sun rose. The destroyed ship was surrounded by a massive response. He recalled helicopters, search boats, fire trucks, and mobile command centers dotting the landscape.

“I don’t if I’ve seen that much of a police presence, fire rescue presence in any sort of scenario that I’ve been in in 24 years,” Searls explains in the interview.

The Key Bridge is a significant commuter vessel, seeing about 31,000 vehicles move across it a day, according to WWLTV. Searls noted the bridge is one of three ways to cross the Patapsco River. This would cause people to “go around a very large detour just to get to those two other interstates to go to those two tunnels to go between back and forth between East Baltimore and West Baltimore,” he tells the news station.

Though the cargo ship’s crew issued a mayday warning that stopped some traffic from entering the bridge before it was too late, some vehicles still hadn’t finished crossing. At least eight people went into the water after the crash, the Associated Press reported. And while two have been rescued, at least six others remain missing. The search resumed Wednesday morning, though the AP reported it moved from a search and rescue mission to one of search and recovery.

“It’s amazing to think about that it’s just not there anymore,” Searls says. “It just fell into the river.”

Image credits: NTSB