A plumbing contractor by day, David Sites isn’t a maritime professional. But each day after work, he spends as much time as he can on the water, often capturing images of the giant container and cruise ships that traverse Maryland’s shipping lanes.

Sites’ amateur photography, shot from his 28-foot Tidewater, has attracted thousands of followers on social media. In the wake of the Key Bridge collapse, Sites dug through his photos at the request of The Baltimore Banner.

One in particular stood out as eerily foreboding: an August 2023 picture of a large container ship off in the distance, and in the foreground, the support pier that held the Key Bridge up for nearly five decades before giving way in a ship strike last week.

“I’ve seen hundreds of ships go under there,” Sites said. “It’s got to be a one-in-a-million chance that that could happen.”

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A photo by David Sites shows a “dolphin,” or concrete barrier (foreground) and the support piers holding up the Key Bridge. (David Sites)

But the photograph contains clues of vulnerabilities experts say could have been addressed.

The support pier, now known to be a critical pin that the entire bridge was counting on, faces the oncoming ship like a single soldier up against an army. A modest concrete “dolphin,” or barrier to prevent damage from a ship, sits far from the support pier’s base.

After the Dali struck the Key Bridge, engineers analyzed photos and footage. Many of them identified what appeared to be a lack of adequate protection around the piers, considering the size of the ships that routinely pass by.

The public conversation among engineers then moved to whether such protection would have worked. That question remains under debate, and will almost certainly be one aspect an ongoing National Transportation Safety Board inquiry.