Maryland Transportation Authority Police officers managed to stop traffic crossing Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge with less than a minute to spare before the 47-year-old structure came crashing down — felled by the cargo ship Dali in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Gov. Wes Moore has declared the officers with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police “heroes” for their quick action in the minutes after the Dali’s apparent mechanical failure, crediting them with saving the lives of people who would have driven onto the bridge.

Still, a crew of at least eight Latin American construction workers filling potholes on the night shift didn’t make it off. The Key Bridge collapsed underneath them. Two survived the collapse, while the Coast Guard called off a search for six others Tuesday night and said they were presumed dead.

Since officials managed to halt traffic before the crash, why weren’t they able to clear construction workers off the bridge?

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Video, police and fire dispatch audio, ship location data and statements from officials detail the minutes leading up to the Dali’s crash — one of the largest infrastructure disasters in Maryland’s history — but what the workers knew before their tragic fall remained murky Wednesday morning.

At some point as the Dali veered off course in the minutes before impact, its crew signaled mayday, the maritime code for distress. How much time that call gave authorities isn’t clear. A handful of minutes, at the most.

In an interview with the “Today” show Wednesday morning, Moore was asked twice about whether officials were able to get a warning to the construction crew. Though the governor suggests that the signal would have reached the workers, his answers were vague, and it’s unclear how much time they would have had to react — if they got the message at all.

“The early indications that we have was that they were able to both start sending out notifications to people there and also being able to keep the cars from coming on the bridge,” he said.

What is clear: Officers with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police intended to warn the construction crew and ran out of time.

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At 1:27 a.m., within two minutes of the Dali’s crash, an officer directed traffic officials to man the south side and the north side of the bridge. “Hold all traffic on the Key Bridge,” he radioed. “There’s a ship approaching that just lost their steering. So until they get that under control we gotta stop all traffic.”

A second officer headed to the south side of the bridge where he radioed back that he’d stopped traffic for the northbound lanes.

Then, around 1:28 a.m., one of the officers asked whether there was a construction crew present.

“Is there a crew working on the bridge right now?” he asked. “Just make sure no one’s on the bridge right now. … If there’s a crew up there, you might want to notify whoever the foreman is to see if we can get them off the bridge temporarily,” he said.

A third officer on the north side of the bridge offered to ride up and tell the workers as soon as another unit came to relieve him, but he never got the chance.

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The Dali, its lights off and black smoke spewing, struck the bridge’s column at 1:28 a.m with an estimated force of 10 million pounds.

Within 20 seconds of the crash, the Key Bridge had collapsed into the Patapsco River.

“The whole bridge just fell down,” one of the officers said over the radio, his voice in apparent disbelief.

Jim Kruszynski, president of the union representing Maryland Transportation Authority Police officers, said Wednesday that the officers were working on an overtime construction detail and did not know a crash was imminent.

From the officers’ perspective, their intervention was precautionary, said Kruszynski of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 34. From the moment the mayday call came in to the moment the officers shut down the road, they were operating on “instinct,” he said, “but they took it as serious as it could be.”

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”They shut down the road immediately,” he said. “There’s no doubt that had they not acted as fast as they did, we would’ve had more people dead.“

Reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this story.

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