What was supposed to be a pleasant day of sightseeing in Philadelphia turned into disaster today when a “Ride the Ducks” amphibious tourist boat was hit by a barge in the Delaware River, breaking it in half with 35 passengers and 2 crew members on board. It occurred at approximately 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, off Market Street and Columbus Avenue. Initial reports said a fire on board shut down the Duck Boat before it was hit by the barge which was being pushed by a tugboat. Witnesses say passengers attempted to get the tugboat’s attention before it struck the boat.
The rescued passengers and crew were taken to a pier at Penn’s Landing, where at least one passenger was taken away in a stretcher and four people were taken to Hahnemann University Hospital in stable condition. Preliminary reports say that most people suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene. The Coast Guard, Navy SEALS and police marine units, along with a police helicopter, are still searching the Delaware for the missing. According to Coast Guard Petty Officer Crystal Keen, they are searching for a 17-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man.
A rescued passenger said the boat seemed to stall in the water near the Independence Seaport Museum when the barge hit them. Another witness said the Duck Boat snapped in half and sank as passengers and crew members grabbed life vests and scrambled to get off.
Larry Wasmunski, a security guard from Delaware River Waterfront Corp who was patrolling the waterfront, told the Associated Press, “I whirled around as the barge began to run over the Duck boat. 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.
Terri Ronna, 45, of Oakland, N.J., was traveling on a ferry from Camden, N.J. to Philadelphia, when the ferry rescued one of the people from the Duck boat. She told the AP, “We were not even halfway over when they said there was somebody overboard and we were going to get them. There were people all over; we could see all these orange life vests.”
Nurses’ Assistant Talmadge Robinson of Philadelphia was onshore when he saw the barge approaching the stalled Duck boat. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “There was a really loud bang. The thing was a sitting duck.” He said he and others threw fire hoses and ropes that were on the dock toward the people in the water and he helped pull three children out. Robinson said he thought the tug had enough time to avoid the Duck boat.
Robinson said there were a lot of children on board, and uniformed police dived into the water to rescue them after they drifted in within reach, which took about ten minutes. Other children, without life jackets, apparently swam toward the Camden side and were rescued by police.
Jason Tilghman told the Inquirer that the Duck boat had been stopped in the river for about 5 to 10 minutes, when a crew member screamed “jump!” to the passengers, jumped in himself just before the barge crashed into the back of the Duck boat, pushing it 150 feet north toward the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Then, Tilghman said, the duck boat became dislodged and capsized. Senes Deleon, 60, was on the Camden side when he saw the collision, telling the Inquirer, “I don’t know how the guy driving the big boat no see the little boat.” Visit this site and this site for pictures of the scene and rescue.
The “Ride the Ducks” tour begins at the Independence Visitor Center and rides through historical Philadelphia before entering the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing. Based on World War II DUKW vehicles, The Ducks are now built using modern design. Passengers are routinely issued life jackets, and all of the rescued passengers could be seen wearing them.
This is the first time anything like this has happened with these amphibious tours in Philadelphia. There are several companies who run these tours. “Ride the Ducks” is owned by Herschend Family Entertainment.
Updates: Sunken Duck Boat Located; Body of Duck Boat Crash Victim Recovered from Delaware River; Second Body Spotted; Duck Boat Tour Passengers Describe Crash and Sinking in Delaware River; Second Body and Duck Boat Pulled from Delaware River; Duck Boat Crash – NTSB Interviews Reveal Calls for Help and Alarm Attempts Failed; Sources: KYW-CBS Local; Philly.com; Fox40