Four hours after an amphibious “Duck Boat” filled with a group of tourists was hit by a barge and sank, it was found under 40 to 50 feet of water. Thirty-seven adults and children were pulled from the Delaware River earlier, and two people, a 16-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man are still missing. (Their ages were corrected from an earlier report.) A large contingent of the passengers was with a tour group from Hungary, and the missing passengers are part of that group. “It’s remarkable that we’re only looking for two people,” Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross said.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said murky waters impeded the search for the missing passengers. “They don’t know if the bodies are inside the boat because it’s so dark,” said Ramsey. “You can’t see three inches in front of you.” Ramsey said the boat would be raised and searched, but police Lt. Frank Vanore said that won’t happen until Thursday. Police divers from Philadelphia and Camden are searching the river and the banks for the two missing victims.
Not that Philadelphia doesn’t have enough problems, the barge, named the “Resource,” was reported to be owned by the water department of the City of Philadelphia, and was being towed by K-Sea Transportation Partners of East Brunswick, New Jersey, a private tugboat company. Maura Kennedy, a spokesperson for Mayor Nutter, told Action News that the unmanned, unmoored barge is used to haul sludge from the biosolids plants in the northeast to a recycling plant in the southwest. Coast Guard spokesman, Thomas Peck, said neither craft was in a wrong lane. All river traffic between the Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin bridges is suspended until further notice.
Channel 6 Action News reported that ten passengers were taken to Hahnemann Hospital, and one is reported to be at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Most were ambulatory or were able to get into wheelchairs on their own. On a 6:00 newscast, a young boy bounded from the back of the ambulance, smiling at the cameras, but was quickly taken aside by a woman, perhaps his mother, and hidden from the cameras. Hahnemann spokeswoman Coleen Cannon said two teens, two adults and three children are presently being evaluated, but had no information on their conditions. Two people refused treatment.
The crash occurred at 2:39 p.m. off Columbus Boulevard between Chestnut and Race Streets. Reports from passengers state that mechanical difficulties and a fire disabled the boat, and it was waiting for help, according to Police Department spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore. Coast Guard Senior Chief Bud Holden said the duck boats are inspected annually, but it was unknown when the boat that sank was last inspected.
A Delaware River Port Authority Ferry rescued one crew member, according to authority spokesman Ed Kasuba. According to the Philadelphia inquirer, Harry Burkhardt’s son Kyle was a deckhand on the Duck boat, and called him after the crash, to assure him he was safe. Harry Burkhardt, from South Philadelphia, is a merchant marine captain and steam engine expert who volunteers on the USS Olympia and is president of the preservation society, “Friends of the Cruiser Olympia.” It is unknown if Kyle Burkhardt was the deckhand rescued by the ferry.
According to New Jersey’s Courier Post, Meaghan Scharpf from Phoenix was visiting Philadelphia for the day with her husband and two children and watched the drama unfold. She said they were hanging out at Penn’s Landing, debating whether or not to take a Duck Boat ride when they saw the boat idling, and then collide with the barge. She said a man was watching the boat with her, and was on the cell phone with his wife, a passenger on the duck boat. Scharpf said she overheard the woman say everything was fine, but then heard screaming and the phone went dead.
Duck Tours is owned by Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., owner of a number of theme parks and Adventure Aquarium in Camden. It is a nationwide fleet of more than 90 amphibious vehicles, and opened their Philadelphia Duck Tours in 2003. Some of the “ducks” are restored and reconditioned World War II DUKW vehicles.
Previous coverage: Philadelphia Duck Boat Hit by Barge; Updates: 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: Philly.com-Duck boat found; Philly.com-Barge Owned by City; Fox.com; Courier Post