Second body recovered at site of duck boat accident

July 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A second body has finally been recovered at the site of this week's duck boat accident.

The body was spotted around 10:00 a.m. as salvage workers were making preparations to raise the sunken duck boat from the bottom of the Delaware River.

The body appeared to come up river with the tide.

Police tried to recover the body, but it was apparently lodged underneath the salvage barge being used to retrieve the submerged boat.

However, around 3:00 p.m., police finally managed to recover the body. A police boat pulled the body on board about a block downriver from where it surfaced.

There is no word on if the body is that of 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem, a Hungarian tourist who was still missing following the accident.

This comes as Hungarian officials say that the body recovered from the Delaware River earlier Friday morning is that of 16-year-old Dora Schwentner, who had been one of two Hungarian tourists missing since Wednesday's collision.

A statement from Hungary's foreign ministry says U.S. authorities informed its consul Friday that they had recovered the body of one of two Hungarian citizens missing since Wednesday's accident.

The body was recovered around 4:45 a.m. south of the Walt Whitman Bridge by members of the Philadelphia Fire Department. The bridge is down the river from the site of the collision.

Police said the body was first spotted by a fishing boat.

Salvage operations began around 9:00 a.m. Friday with a 25-ton crane mounted on a barge. Authorities say the sunken vessel is in about 50 feet of water.

At about 1:30 p.m., the top of the duck boat broke the surface of the water, and crews brought it onto the barge a short time later.

The salvage operation was paid for by "Ride the Ducks," owners of the submerged duck boat.

"We all want to bring closure to the families, it's unfortunate we can't bring their loved ones back, but we at least hope to bring some closure by finding the bodies," Captain Todd Gatlin of the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Schwentner and Prem are members of a Hungarian tour group being hosted by Marshallton United Methodist Church, located in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The pastor told Action News that many of the 37 passengers on the boat were connected to his church. Seven people were members, while 15 were visitors from Hungary.

At a prayer vigil at the church Thursday night, a candle was lit for each accident victim. Pastor Widmer comforted the congregation strength and took a moment to pray with certain individuals.

"I think when we're hurting, it's important to get together and find that sense of connection, not only with each other, but with the Lord, and I think when you get together, there's an ability to get through the difficult times," church member Denita Connor of West Chester, Pennsylvania said.

Source: No distress call sent

Earlier Thursday, Action News learned the master of the duck boat that was hit by the city-owned barge and sunk in the Delaware River Wednesday did not send out a distress call prior to the accident.

Passengers said the duck boat caught fire and became disabled around 2:40 p.m. Investigators say the duck boat master called the company to have another duck boat pick them up, instead of notifying the Coast Guard.

Investigators have said the boat was adrift for about 10 minutes before being hit.

The Coast Guard says it received a garbled distress call at about the time of the accident but couldn't tell where it came from.

A source close to the investigation said the call sounded like 'a lot of chaos, a lot of noise and people screaming like someone had opened a microphone.' However, the Coast Guard said there was no one saying "mayday" or "help" or anything of that nature.

The source says that was the first indication the Coast Guard got that there was anything wrong on the river.

Investigators are still trying to determine if the duck boat master tried to hail the captain of the tug boat that was pushing the barge up the river on a ship-to-ship radio channel. They also want to know if that tug boat operator should have been able to see the duck boat on radar.

The president of "Ride the Ducks," Chris Herschend, came from Atlanta to Philadelphia on Thursday. He told reporters he was confident the duck boat crew would have followed all of their safety procedures, which includes contacting the Coast Guard, drop anchor, and don floatation devices.

"I can tell you that it's my understanding that our captain followed all of his training, all of the Coast Guard training, all of the regulations required of a captain in that situation," Herschend said.

When asked if the captain sent a mayday on Channel 16, the distress channel, Herschend said "I cannot speculate at this time. We are doing a full investigation and cooperating with the Coast Guard and the NTSB to answer those questions and others."

Herschend was then asked if it would have been standard procedure to send out that mayday, to which he replied "That would have been standard procedure, yes."

He also questioned reports that there was a fire on board the duck boat before the accident.

"I can't speculate that there was a fire at the time. It's my understanding that there was an overheating," Herschend said. "Right now we are investigating that. I don't know that there was a fire onboard."

For now "Ride the Ducks" operations have been suspended.

"We'll resume operations when we're confident we've taken every step we can to prevent it from ever happening again," said Herschend.

Investigation into crash continues

The National Transportation Safety Board began an investigation Thursday that will likely take more than a year to complete. Teams of federal investigators will review all aspects of the collision, including radio calls and inspection records. They will do distance tests, and investigators want to see any photographs and videos captured by eyewitnesses or those on board. The accident happened off Market Street and Columbus Boulevard around 2:40 p.m. Wednesday. The Coast Guard says 37 people were on the boat, including two crew members.

Philadelphia police say the boat had just entered the water south of the Ben Franklin Bridge and was to make a routine loop of the Delaware River when it suffered a small engine fire, rendering the boat helpless.

It was struck about 10 minutes later by a city-owned barge used to transport sludge pulled by a tugboat owned by K-Sea Transportation Partners of East Brunswick, N.J.

A woman on the boat, Sandy Cohen, said "A barge went into us. We had engine trouble, so we were just waiting for somebody else to come and tow us." When asked if she had any warning, Cohen said "Not about the barge," then added "Just very briefly."

Bystanders nearby could only watch the collision.

"They didn't blow a horn or anything. The people were trying to get out of the boat, I saw them trying to get out of the boat because they saw the barge coming; the barge just ran over the top of them, it, actually, sunk under," witness Omar Lamoumba said.

"It pretty much ran over that boat, it crushed it into pieces, everybody jumped off the boat. You could tell everybody had life vests," witness Eric Scharpf said.

Witness Tiffany Michaels told Action News: "People on the duck, from what I could tell, were standing up. It looked like they were in a state of panic, probably thinking 'should I jump or not?' at which point the barge hit the duck from behind. It looked like the duck boat had capsized, the barge plowed over it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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