searchducks1 Still No Sign of Missing Duck Boat Passengers

KYW Newsradio Team Coverage

The US Coast Guard has called off the search and rescue operation for two tourists who went missing after the Duck Boat accident on Wednesday. Instead, authorities say, crews were in recovery mode  combing the surface of the Delaware River for bodies of the missing people.

KYW’s Pat Loeb reports that the two people who disappeared in the accident are students from Hungary.  They are now presumed dead and the Coast Guard says its mission now is simply to recover their bodies.

The announcement came 29 hours after the boat went down and the 16-year-old girl and 20-year-old man went missing.

Captain Todd Gatlin says the Coast Guard has concluded the young victims have not survived the accident.:

“We take into consideration everything from water temperature, to the health of the person in the water, to how good the search conditions are, to how well constrained the area is.”

Gatlin said experience suggests the bodies will resurface after about two days and the Coast Guard and Philadelphia marine police will be looking for the bodies until they’re found.

KYW’s John McDevitt reports from along Penn’s Landing near the site of the collision, where earlier in the evening Mayor Nutter held out hope:

“Of course we are hopeful and will remain hopeful unless we have reason not to be. This is a serious situation and we’ll do everything that we can.”

Also along Penn’s Landing, detective Timothy Brooks with the Philadelphia police bomb disposing unit. He jumped in shortly after the collision going to the aide of a woman and children in the river, until a rescue boat arrived.

“I was trying to reassure them that they were safe and that look the boats are coming to get us. You’ll be fine. Just trying to calm them down.”

He says it’s all in a day’s work and wishes people would stop calling him a hero.

KYW’s Mike Dunn reports from City Hall that fifteen of those on board, including the two missing passengers (see previous story), were Hungarian tourists.  Nutter says the Hungarian government is sending a representative from its consulate in New York City to Philadelphia.  The diplomat was to be briefed by officials on the accident and then meet with the Hungarian passengers who were rescued.

boatcrash2 cbs3 Still No Sign of Missing Duck Boat Passengers

The barge that rammed the Duck boat was city-owned, and was being pushed by a hired tugboat.  Nutter deferred any questions on the city’s liability, as well as questions about policies and procedures, until after the search for the missing passengers is concluded.

boatcrash cbs3 Still No Sign of Missing Duck Boat Passengers

ADDITIONAL PICTURES IN PHOTO GALLERY

Nutter did say his administration has already begun its own analysis, in conjunction with the NTSB’s formal probe:

“We want people to be safe,” said Nutter, “and if there are actions we can take to better ensure public safety, then we will move in that direction.”

Hear Mayor Nutter’s Thursday morning briefing:

The Duck boats are both motor vehicles and boats.  They are inspected annually and separately by PennDOT for land travel and by the US Coast Guard for water travel.  The city is not involved in those inspections and has no jurisdiction over the vehicles, nor over the Delaware River.

Mayor Nutter said he is not concerned about the multiple levels of oversight.  “I think everyone knows how to get along,” said Nutter.

The city’s only jurisdiction over the Duck Boat operation is through the firm’s business license and tour operator license.  This allows the city to dictate a few things, such as (a) where to load and unload passengers, and (b) land travel routes.  The firm is said to have been fully cooperative in those regards.

Finally, the mayor said he is not concerned that this accident would have any impact on tourism in the city this summer:

“We’re concerned about our image nationally and internationally every day,” said Nutter.  But, he said, “most adults recognize sometimes accidents do happen.”

The company will be required to submit a salvage plan to the Coast Guard before the sunken vehicle can be raised.

Related story: president of “Ride The Ducks” holds press briefing

KYW’s Mark Abrams reports that the US Coast Guard held a press conference shortly before 8am this morning to answer questions about the accident and investigation (see previous story).

According to officials, the Philadelphia police and the US Coast Guard have decided not to send divers into the water because of dangerous currents and murky conditions below the surface.

Coast Guard captain Todd Gatlin says a salvage crew was hired by the Ducks to bring the boat up from the bottom of the river:

“The duck boat company will submit a salvage plan to the Coast Guard for our review — not necessarily our approval — for our review. We’ll share that with the National Transportation Safety Board, which as you probably heard, has taken over the investigation. [We] don’t have a timeline on exactly when they’ll submit that salvage plan.”

The identities of the missing 20-year-old man and 16-year-old girl were not revealed, but it was confirmed that both are tourists who are not from the United States.

KYW’s Al Novack reports that as the search for the victims continues on the surface of the river, the waterway will remain open to traffic as long as the vessels have a police, fire, or Coast Guard escort between the Walt Whitman and Betsy Ross Brides.

Stay tuned to KYW Newsradio 1060 for the latest on this developing news story.

Additional coverage from AP

(Top photo by KYW’s Mark Abrams; photos of crash provided by KYW-TV )