By Maryclaire Dale
Officials say a fire on board had shut down a duck boat that was struck by a barge in the Delaware River off Philadelphia.
The barge hit the boat and overturned it Wednesday afternoon, sending at least 37 people into the water and later sinking. At the time of this printing, officials said they were still searching for a 16-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man.
Coast Guard officials say that 35 passengers and two crew members were aboard and that two people are accounted for. A spokeswoman for the duck boat company says there were a total of 39 people on board. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.
Mayoral spokeswoman Maura Kennedy says the barge was owned by the city and directed by a tugboat owned by K-Sea Transportation Partners of East Brunswick, N.J.
Bystanders along the waterfront screamed as the barge hit the boat around 2:30 PM., said a security guard who was patrolling the waterfront.
“I whirled around as the barge began to run over the duck boat,” said Larry Waxmunski, a guard for the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. “After the barge hit it — it almost looked like slow motion — the duck boat began to turn over.”
“Fortunately, you began to see the life vests popping up almost immediately,” Waxmunski said. He then saw police boats beginning to pluck the tourists out of the water.
Television footage showed at least five people being pulled from the water wearing life vests in an area of the river near the Old City neighborhood, popular with tourists. Helicopter footage showed people in life vests being helped from boats on to a dock and at least one person on a gurney.
Terri Ronna, 45, of Oakland, N.J., said she was on a ferry going from Camden, N.J., across the river to Philadelphia when the captain announced that there was someone overboard from another ship and that they were going to rescue him.
“We were not even halfway over when they said there was somebody overboard and we were going to get them,” Ronna said. “There were people all over; we could see all these orange life vests.”
The Georgia-based tour company says it has suspended duck boat has suspended operations nationwide in light of yesterdays accident.
Ride the Ducks of Norcross, Ga., also operates tours in San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Newport, KY, and Branson, Mo.
The company said in a statement on its website Thursday that it was suspending operations nationwide.
“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,” Ride the Ducks President Chris Herschend said.
When asked how long the boat was in the water without power, Herschend said that investigations were ongoing.
Police and Coast Guard officials are still searching for two people. Others suffered minor injuries.
The boats can operate on both land and water and are popular with tourists.