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One Year Later, ‘Ride The Ducks’ Crash Survivors Suffer PTSD

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The Duck Boat Accident
John McDevitt John McDevitt
John McDevitt has been a reporter and editor at KYW Newsradio 1060...
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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – You won’t see any Ride The Ducks tours in Old City today.

At 2:37 Thursday afternoon, a small group of survivors of last summer’s Duck Boat accident on the Delaware River gathered along Penn’s Landing to toss flowers into the water.

It was one year ago when two Hungarian tourists, Dora Schwendter, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, drowned after a barge collided with a Ride the Ducks boat along the Delaware River (see previous story). And the sight-seeing company has suspended its operations in observance of the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the first mate on the barge’s tug boat was distracted by his cell phone and laptop, and never noticed the disabled duck boat (see previous story).

Some members of a Chester County church, who survived the crash, continue to suffer severe anxiety.

The Marshallton United Methodist Church’s youth group was hosting a visiting group of 15 youth and youth leaders from Hungary as a part of a two-way cultural exchange program called Atlantic Bridge. Seven members of the small Chester County church were on board the duck boat, along with their Hungarian guests.

Rev. Scott Widmer is the Marshalton church’s pastor. He says some of the survivors are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“It can literally incapacitate and shut you down, that’s how severe post traumatic stress can be. So our role as a congregation has been to be supportive and stay flexible,” Rev. Widmer explained.

As part of the healing process, some of the congregants went to Hungary last month to visit the Hungarian survivors.

“Four of them were able to go to Hungary to be able to see those people again in person and it was a part of their healing journey; that was the purpose of the trip. They raised the money themselves,” Rev. Widmer said.

“Our friends on the other side of the ocean are doing the same thing at the graves of Dora and Szab, so we’re all kind of bonded over this,” said Jackie Kennedy, the church youth group leader who organized the Hungarian exchange. “It’s a tough day, but I’m doing okay.”

Kennedy is one of the survivors coping with post traumatic stress from the accident. She says it changed her life forever.

Watch the video…

“It’s a miracle more people didn’t lose their lives that day,” said Philadelphia Police Detective Tim Brooks. He would know. He was just blocks away when he heard the emergency call on the radio. He drove to the river and dove in to help the survivors.

He marked the anniversary with a prayer for the victims’ families.

“We did all we could that day,” he said. “But there was more we would have liked to do. We would have liked everyone to get out.”

In an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Daily News, Sandor Prem – Szabolcs’ father – and Aniko Takacs – Dora’s mother – wrote “We still do not know the whole story, or how the duck boat company can continue to operate in Philadelphia.”

Their attorney, Bob Mongeluzzi, says the families want Ride the Ducks to admit its mistakes. The duck boat overheated and the captain shut it down in the middle of the river because its radiator cap was missing.

“When a child dies, parents want the responsible party to say ‘It’s our fault. We’re sorry,’” he said. “They don’t want them to shut their business down for the day.”

Over the past year, the NTSB concluded that Ride the Ducks shared some blame, but prime responsibility for the fatal accident rested with the pilot of the tug boat pushing the barge.

“I think it’s just important to know that this is what happens when people are distracted,” said survivor Emily Billings on Thursday. “And it’s important to remember not to be distracted by cell phones or anything on any mode of transportation.”

Reported by John McDevitt, KYW Newsradio; Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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