Baltimore bridge collapse survivor recounts fighting for his life in NBC interview

Jul 10, 2024, 4:07 PM | Updated: 4:12 pm

BALTIMORE (AP) — The only person who survived falling from Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge during its catastrophic collapse says he watched in horror as his coworkers, friends and relatives plunged to their deaths.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News that aired Wednesday evening, Julio Cervantes Suarez described fighting for his life after his truck tumbled into the Patapsco River. He was part of a roadwork crew filling potholes on the bridge when a massive cargo ship lost power and crashed into one of its supporting columns on March 26.

Six people died in the collapse, including Cervantes Suarez’s nephew and brother-in-law. An inspector working alongside the crew was able to run to safety and declined medical treatment.

Cervantes Suarez, 37, who hadn’t previously spoken publicly about his experience, said the men were sitting in their construction vehicles during a break when the bridge suddenly started crumbling beneath them. A last-minute mayday call from the ship’s pilot had allowed nearby police officers to stop traffic to the bridge just moments earlier, but they didn’t have enough time to alert the construction workers.

Faced with almost certain death, Cervantes Suarez said he thanked God for his family.

Miraculously, he was able to manually roll down the window of his rapidly sinking truck and climb out into the frigid water.

“That’s when I realized what happened,” he told NBC News in Spanish. “I looked at the bridge, and it was no longer there.”

He said he called out to his companions by name, but no one answered him. Unable to swim, he clung to a piece of floating concrete until he was rescued by first responders. He was hospitalized for treatment of a chest wound.

Cervantes Suarez said he’s haunted by the fall and grieving an unimaginable loss.

All the victims were Latino immigrants who moved to the U.S. for work opportunities.

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse, Baltimore County’s close-knit Latino community constructed an elaborate memorial where loved ones gathered often while salvage divers continued searching the wreckage for human remains. It took six weeks before all the bodies were recovered.

“They were good people, good workers and had good values,” Cervantes Suarez said.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the wayward cargo ship Dali experienced power outages before starting its voyage from Baltimore to Sri Lanka, but the exact causes of the electrical issues have yet to be determined. The FBI is also conducting a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the disaster.

The ship’s owner and manager, both Singapore-based companies, filed a court petition soon after the collapse seeking to limit their legal liability. The City of Baltimore, among other entities, have challenged that claim and accused the companies of negligence. Lawyers representing victims of the collapse and their families, including Cervantes Suarez, have also pledged to hold the companies accountable.

A federal court in Maryland will ultimately decide who’s responsible and how much they owe in what could become one of the most expensive maritime disasters in history.

Officials have pledged to rebuild the bridge, which could cost at least $1.7 billion and take several years.

During a Senate committee hearing Wednesday morning, Maryland senators reiterated calls for Congress to approve a spending measure that would allow the federal government to cover 100% of the rebuild effort.

The sections of the bridge that remain standing will be demolished in the coming months to make way for the new structure, local media reported earlier this week.

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Baltimore bridge collapse survivor recounts fighting for his life in NBC interview