Audio: ‘We … capsized the duck boat’

A Ride the Ducks vehicle on its way to the Delaware River. Three vessels, without passengers, were tested.
A Ride the Ducks vehicle on its way to the Delaware River. Three vessels, without passengers, were tested.
Posted: July 24, 2010

The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday released recordings of radio traffic from the time the duck boat was run over by a barge on the Delaware River on July 7.

The first indication of trouble comes from an unidentified voice, possibly a nearby ferry captain, who sounds as if he is witnessing the accident.

"Hey! Ferry, ferry, ferry! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" the voice shouts on Channel 16, which is the emergency frequency.

A short time later the captain of tugboat Freedom contacts the Coast Guard to alert them about the accident.

"One of the duck boats off Penn's Landing just got, uh, looks like they got run over by a barge. I'm going in to pick them up," the captain says.

He repeats his report, but with more urgency.

"Yeah, this is Freedom. We've got people in the water off Penn's landing," the captain says.

A Coast Guard official asks how many people are in the water.

"No idea. I don't have time to talk to you right now. I'm going to get the people," the captain says.

The Coast Guard later alerts vessels in the area that there are believed to be 30 people in the water and for ship crews to keep an eye out for them.

Eventually, the captain of the tugboat Caribbean Sea contacts the Coast Guard to say that the barge he was pushing had apparently hit the duck boat.

"Yeah, we're right here next to the ducks, uh, the ship Freedom. We're the ones that, I guess, capsized the duck boat," the Caribbean Sea captain says. "We are on scene making sure nobody got injured or if we can help in any way. We do have a barge alongside, so there's not much we can do."

The Coast Guard official then asks the Caribbean Sea to toss out any life jackets or flotation devices they have.

The amphibious vehicle carried two crew members and 35 passengers that afternoon. A group of Hungarian tourists were among the passengers, and two members of the group died when the 250-foot barge ran over the duck.

The recordings released Friday were taken from the emergency channel recorded by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.

Ride the Ducks is the company that operates the service. It ceased operations after the crash, but on Friday, three of its boats went back into the water for what company spokesman Bob Salmon described as an "internal inspection."

Eventually, the company hopes, they'll be carrying passengers.

Beginning about 2:15 in the afternoon, three vessels briefly hit the Delaware, with only one crew member on board. No timetable has been set for Ride the Ducks to return.

"We're trying to get ready to get back in operation," said Salmon, adding that the company made a practice of "constantly reviewing [its] vehicles" before the July 7 accident.

While the organization remains in conversations with the Coast Guard about resuming operations, Coast Guard Capt. Todd Gatlin declined to discuss a timetable for a potential return.

Neither the Coast Guard nor the city linked Friday's tests to a desire from the company to restart its business in the near term.

At the site of the activity, a few passersby gazed on as the boats entered the water in shifts from the ride's standard"Splash Zone" on Race Street, just beneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Each set out in the direction of the channel, veered right toward Penn's Landing - barely in view of those gathering on the pier in the sweltering heat - then turned around and exited the river within a few minutes. No two boats were on the water at the same time.

Once the tests ended around 2:35, two of the amphibious vehicles headed north on Columbus Boulevard; the last drove south toward Market Street.

In an interview Friday, Douglas Oliver, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, also acknowledged the Street Department's failure to file mandatory annual reports on tour-vehicle safety, as required by a 2006 city law, since the inception of the legislation.

"The bottom line is: It's a law," Oliver said. "It should have been implemented."

The department has begun compiling reports on the years it missed, Oliver added.


Contact staff writer Matt Flegenheimer at 215-854-5614 or mflegenheimer@phillynews.com.

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