Duck boat, 2 bodies pulled from Philadelphia river
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Two days after a barge crashed into a stopped tourist boat, leaving two Hungarian tourists missing, authorities retrieved two bodies from the Delaware River, including a girl identified as one of the victims. Identification of the second body was pending.
The body of a girl later identified as 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner was spotted by a crew on a fishing boat before dawn Friday about two miles downriver from the site of Wednesday’s crash.
The second body was retrieved later in the day, after a barge brought in to help to lift the duck boat off the river’s bottom was moved.
Authorities could not immediately confirm whether the body was that of Szabolcs Prem, 20, the other missing Hungarian tourist.
The six-wheeled duck boat, carrying 35 passengers and two crew, was struck by the barge on Wednesday around 2:40 p.m.
The tourist boat’s crew told investigators they shut off the engine after white smoke that smelled like burning rubber came out of the hood.
It was stopped five to 10 minutes before the crash.
Crew members said they told passengers to put on life jackets just before the barge struck the boat.
Within seconds it capsized and sank, though all but two people were rescued without serious injury.
On Friday, pulling the bodies and the amphibious boat from the water closed the recovery efforts that attracted scores of onlookers to the river’s banks and caused the Delaware River to be closed to pleasure boats.
Now, investigators are left with several questions: How did the crash happen? What caused the duck boat to spew smoke? Did its skipper let other vessels know? Did the captain and crew of the tug pushing the empty barge know – or should they have known – the duck boat was idle in the water, its anchor deployed?
The NTSB spent Friday interviewing the two crew members and 16 passengers on the duck boat.
“They told amazing stories of heroism,” said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt. “One young man said he gave his life jacket to someone else, then he swam to shore.”
Interviews with the five crew on the tug were scheduled for Saturday.
The federal crew expected to remain in Philadelphia about a week longer, but will continue their probe in Washington.
One issue to be examined is whether the tug boat was able to see the duck boat in the water because of any blind spot, an issue known to tug boat pilots.
Joseph Dady, president of the National Mariners Association and a tug boat pilot himself, told The Associated Press that tugs always have blind spots when they’re pushing barges.
In this case, where the tug’s wheel house was relatively low and the barge was light and floating high in the water, it could have been large he said.
He said the Coast Guard requires lookouts on board tugs or barges in situations like that, but that they’re often not posted and the rule is not often enforced. U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Todd Gatlin disputed that the regulation is not enforced.
Tug pilots are also required to use radar to make sure they’re not at risk of hitting other vessels. The duck boat did not have a radar reflector, so it’s not clear whether it would show up on a boat’s radar.
Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for K-Sea Transportation Partners, which operates the tug called The Caribbean Sea, said he would not talk about details like whether there was a lookout or whether the radar was working properly.
Those are questions the NTSB was looking into.
The Coast Guard’s Gatlin said the area where the crash happened – a spot near a marina and used by boats of all sizes – does not have speed restrictions. “It’s basically a safe maritime speed,” he said.
Another question in the investigation is whether the tugboat pilot heard any distress signal from the duck boat.
Chris Herschend, president of the boat company, Ride the Ducks, said Friday that the boat’s 58-year-old captain, Gary Fox, told him he had put out a distress call on Channel 13, which is monitored by boaters but not recorded.
The NTSB’s Sumwalt said Fox reported that he tried to sound his boat’s air horn when the barge was less than 400 yards away. But the air horn, which Fox said worked in a test that morning, didn’t sound.
The Coast Guard has said that it received a transmission over an emergency channel around the time of the collision, but that no voices or other recognizable sounds could be discerned. It wasn’t clear whether that signal was heard, or understood, on the tug.
The second body that was retrieved late Friday was spotted early in the day and then disappeared, becoming lodged under a barge brought in to help to lift the duck boat off the river’s bottom. It surfaced again after the operation was completed and the barge lifted anchor.
Schwendtner and Prem were among 13 Hungarian students, two Hungarian teachers, four U.S. students and three U.S. teachers on a tour hosted by Marshallton United Methodist Church in suburban Philadelphia.
Black flags were raised Friday at the victims’ school and at the city hall in their hometown of Mosonmagyarovar, in northwestern Hungary. School principal Karoly Hansagi told the state news agency MTI that a candlelight vigil would be held Saturday night.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said there would be a private memorial for the victims at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Independence Seaport Museum. After that, there was to be a public laying of wreaths and flying of doves.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Patrick Walters and Randy Pennell in Philadelphia; Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary; and Joan Lowy in Washington.