Boat Pilot Testifies On Rail Crash

Posted: December 16, 1993

MOBILE, Ala. — The pilot of a towboat involved in Amtrak's deadliest disaster testified yesterday that he was lost in dense fog when he mistook a radar image of a railroad bridge for another vessel.

Willie C. Odom, pilot of the Mauvilla, told a National Transportation Safety Board hearing that the bridge appeared on the radar screen as a straight line, just as a vessel would.

According to NTSB investigators, barges from the Mauvilla rammed the bridge on Sept. 22, damaging it. Moments later, Amtrak's Sunset Limited derailed on the bridge and plunged into Big Bayou Canot, killing 47 people.

Odom thought he was in a regular shipping lane in the Mobile River, but later conceded a wrong turn had sent him into the dark bayou.

Later yesterday, towboat Capt. Andrew Stabler testified that he was off duty and asleep but that he felt a bump that jarred him awake.

The NTSB ended its three-day hearing yesterday. It said the hearing was to find ways to improve rail safety, not to assess blame. No one has been charged in the accident.

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