Video: Two still missing in Philly tour boat crash

  1. Closed captioning of: Two still missing in Philly tour boat crash

    >>> now to a tragic accident involving a tour boat in philadelphia. 37 people were tossed overboard when a sight-seeing duck boat was hit by a barge. this morning, two are still missing. nbc's stephanie gosk is in philadelphia with the latest. good morning to you.

    >> reporter: good morning, meredith. this was a slow motion collision. some of the passengers are quoted as saying they had 45 seconds to react. it was enough time for some parents to put life jackets on their kids, but not enough time, it seems, for a 16-year-old young woman from hungary and a 20-year-old young man from hundrgary to be saved. the search continues. the boats behind me have been searching throughout the night.

    >> reporter: local rescue teams located the sunken boat using sonar detection and divers but were unable to check inside. murky waters and a strong current are making the search extremely difficult.

    >> right now, we're at a point where -- i'll be honest -- hope is fading, but we have not given up hope completely.

    >> reporter: the duck boat was full of tourists, many of them exchange students on a sweltering afternoon. crews pulled 35 people from the water after the accident occurred. ten passengers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. investigators say the problem began with a fire in the engine after the boat launched.

    >> the boat was on the water, waiting for help.

    >> reporter: the 18-foot vessel sat in the water for ten minutes, helpless, incapable of steering clear of a 250-foot barge barrelling in its direction. when the two collided, the tour boat capsized and sank. duck boats are popular in many u.s. cities because they can drive on land and sail on water. they were originally designed by general motors during world war ii . 13 people drowned in an accident in arkansas. none were wearing life vests . today the company that runs the boats suggests but does not insist that life vests be worn. at least some of the passengers seem to have taken that simple precaution. safety measures will be just one facet of the national transportation and safety board's investigation.

    >> our goal is to do a very good investigation, come up with recommendations that can prevent this type of accident from occurring again.

    >> reporter: the coast guard says that these duck boats are inspected annually but they won't say when this boat was inspected. the ntsb will focus on this issue of maintenance. it was one of the factors just over ten years ago that they blame for that terrible, deadly incident in arkansas. meredith?

    >> all right. stephanie gosk, thank

updated 7/8/2010 10:27:17 AM ET 2010-07-08T14:27:17

Hope faded for finding two tour boat passengers alive Thursday, a day after the amphibious craft they were riding in was struck and sunk by a barge in the Delaware River, spilling them and other passengers into the murky waters, searchers said.

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A search for the missing duck boat passengers resumed in the morning near Philadelphia's Penn's Landing, with boats searching the surface and using sonar, but conditions were too dangerous to send divers underwater Thursday.

"There is no visibility whatsoever on the bottom," said Philadelphia police Lt. Andrew Napoli, speaking of his earlier dives. "The vehicle is laying upright on its wheels. There could be bodies inside, we're not sure. ... With the currents being what they are, if it went down with bodies inside, the bodies could very well have been washed out of the vessel."

Interviews with other passengers indicate the missing 16-year-old girl and 20-year-old man were members of a Hungarian tour group, officials said.

"We're still searching with some hope," Coast Guard Capt. Todd Gatlin said Thursday at a news conference. "Hopes are fading — but with some hope that they've survived. They could be in the boat, they could be other places."

The 37 people aboard the six-wheeled duck boat were tossed overboard when the tugboat-pushed barge hit it after it had been adrift for a few minutes with its engine stalled, police said. Most were plucked from the river by other vessels in a frantic rescue operation that happened in full view of Penn's Landing, just south of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The duck boat, which can travel seamlessly on land and water, had driven into the river Wednesday afternoon and suffered a mechanical problem and a small fire, officials said. It was struck about 10 minutes later by a barge used to transport sludge and sank to the bottom of the river.

Ten people were taken to a hospital; two declined treatment, and eight were treated and released, Hahnemann University Hospital spokeswoman Coleen Cannon said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it planned to try to obtain any radio recordings, any possible mayday calls, photographs from witnesses or people aboard and other evidence as its investigators remain in Philadelphia over the next several days.

Investigators would try to figure out why the vessels collided and "how conspicuous would that duck have been" to the tugboat pushing the 250-foot-long barge, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said. NTSB officials also hoped to conduct witness interviews, he said.

Divers found the duck boat in water about 50 feet deep, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said.

One passenger, Kevin Grace, 50, of St. Louis, said he had less than a minute to get a lifejacket on his 9-year-old daughter before the barge hit.

"We had 45 seconds to try to get the life jackets on our kids," he told The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. "Everyone panicked, rushing to the front of the boat."

Bystanders along the waterfront screamed as the barge hit the boat, said a security guard who was patrolling the area.

"I whirled around as the barge began to run over the duck boat," said Larry Waxmunski, a guard for the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. "After the barge hit it — it almost looked like slow motion — the duck boat began to turn over."

Television footage showed at least five people being pulled from the water wearing life vests in an area of the river near the Old City neighborhood, popular with tourists. Helicopter footage showed people in life vests being helped from boats onto a dock and at least one person on a gurney.

Terri Ronna, 45, of Oakland, N.J., said she was on a ferry going from Camden, N.J., across the river to Philadelphia when the captain announced that there was someone overboard from another ship and that they were going to rescue him.

"We were not even halfway over when they said there was somebody overboard and we were going to get them," Ronna said.

The passengers who were treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital were three teenagers, three younger children and two adults, Cannon said.

One crew member from the duck boat was rescued by the ferry that the Delaware River Port Authority was operating on its scheduled route between Philadelphia and Camden, authority spokesman Ed Kasuba said.

Officials said the barge was owned by the city and being directed by a tugboat owned by K-Sea Transportation Partners, of East Brunswick, N.J.

The city Water Department uses the barge to transport sludge from a sewage plant in northeast Philadelphia to a recycling plant downriver, mayoral spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said. The city has a contract with K-Sea, which operates the tugboat that pulled the unmanned and unpowered barge.

Ride the Ducks also operates tours in San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Newport, R.I., and Branson, Mo. The company said in a statement on its website that it was suspending its Philadelphia operations.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our Philadelphia guests, crew members and their families," the statement said.

Holden, of the Coast Guard, said the duck boats are inspected annually, but he did not know when the boat involved in Wednesday's crash was last inspected.

Another Coast Guard spokesman, Thomas Peck, said neither craft was in a wrong lane.

Some of the duck boats are amphibious military personnel carriers dating to World War II that have been restored and reconditioned. Known by their original military acronym as DUKWs, they were first introduced in the tourism market in 1946 in the Wisconsin Dells, where about 120 of the vessels now operate.

As of 2000, there were more than 250 refurbished amphibious vehicles in service nationwide, the NTSB said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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