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"Duck Boat" Sinks in Delaware River, Two Missing

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KYW Newsradio Team Coverage
by John McDevitt, Mike DeNardo, Mike Dunn, Jim Melwert, Hadas Kuznits, Pat Loeb, and Ian Bush

The search continued on Thursday morning for two people still missing after Wednesday’s accident on the Delaware River.  A tourist “Duck Boat” ride sank shortly before 3pm, after it was hit by a barge in the Delaware River. 


Dozens of people were rescued from the water but an active search of the river continues with police, Coast Guard boats, Navy SEAL divers, and helicopters.

Officials say 37 people were aboard the popular tourist ride that uses converted World War II amphibious vehicles to provide tours of Old City and then a short cruise in the river from a ramp under the Ben Franklin Bridge.

US Coast Guard deputy commander Capt. Todd Gatlin says 35 people were rescued but family members reported two others missing.  They were later identified as a 16-year-old female and a 20-year-old male.

KYW’s Hadas Kuznits reports ten of those rescued were transported to Hahnemann Hospital for evaluation and treatment.  They comprised both local residents and tourists, including members of a tour group from Hungary. One teen appeared to be suffering from a head wound but none of the victims’ injuries are thought to be life-threatening.

City officials rushed to the scene of the mishap. Hours after the accident, Mayor Michael Nutter confirmed that two people remain missing:

Hear briefing by Mayor Nutter:

Officials say that before the Duck Boat was hit by the barge, it had radioed that it was disabled and was awaiting assistance.

One passenger who was aboard the Duck Boat that sank says the vehicle was stalled in the water near the Independence Seaport Museum following a fire when it was run down by a barge that was being pushed by a tugboat.

Passengers on the tourist boat scrambled for their lives.

KYW’s Mike DeNardo reports that one of them was a woman who only gave her name as Jackie from West Chester, before she left to check on her family. This is how she described the accident:

“Our tour broke down in the water and we were waiting for help and a big barge was coming toward us and he didn’t stop and he didn’t stop and he hit and we capsized.”

Jackie says passengers were grabbing life vests and putting them on as the boat was sinking.

One eyewitness to the accident said the Duck Boat sank quickly as passengers and crew members grabbed life vests and scrambled to get off.

KYW’s John McDevitt reports bystanders on Penns Landing sprang into action, throwing floating objects to the victims who were near the riverbank and trying to help people out of the water. It was a horrific site for many who witnessed the accident:

“I saw the Duck Boat seem to be stalled and every one on shore got excited because it looked for sure there was going to be a collision and there was.”

Many did whatever it took to hoist the passengers up out of the river to safety, some grabbing branches, rope, whatever they could find.:

“We just saw a bunch of people floating so my Dad, he went off the side and he tried to help people up. Me and my friend tried to help people up off the side.”

Several good Samaritans assisted the victims by letting them use their cell phones to call loved ones.

KYW’s Jim Melwert reports as of about 6pm, divers had located what they believed to be the sunken boat about 50 feet below the surface of the Delaware, just off Chestnut Street. Police chief Charles Ramsey says the boat was found during what he describes as a ‘black dive’, meaning the divers could not see more than a few feet in the dark murky waters. The next step, Ramsey says, will be determining how to raise it.

The Penn’s Landing section of the Delaware River was closed to marine traffic by the Coast Guard following the incident.

The company that owns “Ride the Ducks” has pledged to help the investigation and says its prayers are with the families of the missing passengers.

KYW’s Mike Dunn reports that a Philadelphia city councilman whose has dealt with the “Ride the Ducks” company for years is confident that the boat’s operations were properly certified.

“Ride the Ducks” was the first to bring the amphibious tour boats to Philadelphia — the Ducks arrived in 2003 — and currently the firm the only one still operating here.

City councilman Frank DiCicco — whose district includes Penn’s Landing — says all their duck boat operators must be certified by the Coast Guard:

“There are certain hours of training and continuing education as it relates to navigation and… I’m not sure if they need to be captains but they are certified by the Coast Guard.”

And DiCicco says he views the company as reliable and responsible; certainly no fly-by-night operation.  He expects any investigation to be handled by the Coast Guard, which polices the Delaware River waterways.

Ride the Ducks operates these tour boats in several other major cities, including Baltimore.

KYW’s Ian Bush reports passengers on the Duck Boats are not required to wear lifevests, but they are close at hand.

From Philadelphia to cities across the country, Duck boats — operated by several different companies — are a unique way to experience sites by land and on the water. But their amphibious nature also carries risk.

Just a couple of months ago, a Duck boat became disabled in Boston Harbor — and dozens of passengers had to be towed to safety.

It was nothing like 1999, when 13 people, including 3 children died, as one of the Ducks (operated by another company than does business in Philadelphia) sank in Arkansas:

“The wearing of lifejackets aboard most vessels is not required while the vessel is underway.”

Coast Guard lieutenant commander Chris O’Neil says instead, passengers are supposed to be told to put on the vests when an emergency is imminent — though sometimes, of course, a situation can take a boat and its riders by surprise:

“But they are readily accessible to the passengers and passengers are briefed on how to access the life jackets before the vessel gets underway.”

The Coast Guard also checks to make sure captains on these vessels are properly trained to deal with such an occasion.

Stay tuned to KYW Newsradio 1060 for updates on this breaking news story.

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