Yorkshire structural engineer achieves global coverage as expert commentator on Baltimore bridge collision disaster

Yorkshire structural engineer achieves global coverage as expert commentator on Baltimore bridge collision disaster
Julian Carter

Yorkshire structural engineer Julian Carter has achieved international prominence, following media appearances, as an expert commentator, on the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Julian says: “This was a tragic incident which caused the deaths of six construction workers on the bridge, after a fully loaded container ship apparently lost power and collided with one of the concrete bridge supports. Being invited to comment on it was a sobering experience.”

The scale of the incident quickly attracted international media attention. At this point Julian became involved.

He explains: “I’m on a database of expert witnesses in structural engineering, and it appears that’s how the initial contact was made. I was first called by Sky News who quickly arranged an online video interview.”

Julian adds: “Being an expert witness is normally a relatively sedate affair, requiring the assembly of facts and copious preparation. On this occasion it was much different. I was reliant on the latest intelligence about the unfolding events, provided by the media sources.

“I’ve worked on extensive bridge structures including the mile long Thelwall Viaduct on the M6, near Warrington, and was able to provide an insight into the nature of the Baltimore Bridge design.

“They were keen to understand how the bridge could have collapsed in such a catastrophic manner. I explained the nature of continuous span bridges, in terms of both their strength and their vulnerabilities.

“The design basis of the bridge meant that it was a continuous structure. The unforeseen collision with the concrete pillar created a catastrophic collapse.”

Julian soon discovered that the news media industry is a kind of eco system where each outlet monitors the coverage of others.

He says: “Following the Sky News TV piece, the pace was off the scale. I was invited by media outlets worldwide to comment on the event, as we best understood the facts. News agencies including the BBC, ITN and others from America, Canada, Singapore and Europe were amongst those who called me to arrange TV, radio and newspaper interviews.”

At the latest count Julian is credited with about 350 media mentions.

Julian concludes: “In this case, the extraordinary circumstances of a container ship which lost power created a tragic outcome. The only good news is that the accident happened at night. The crew of the ship were able to notify the authorities of the likely collision and they closed the bridge to traffic, preventing further loss of life.”

The press and TV coverage has prompted colleagues old and new to get in touch. Julian says: “Expert witness work is often done on my regional or county ‘patch’ but in this case my comments had global reach and re-ignited friendships from colleagues, worldwide.” 

Enquiries into the exact cause of the collision are ongoing, and authorities in Baltimore are continuing with contingency plans to enable the harbour to continue trading.

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