Sunken duck boat lifted from bottom of Delaware River in Philly hours after body identified

By Maryclaire Dale, AP
Friday, July 9, 2010

Crane lifts sunken duck boat from Philly river

PHILADELPHIA — A massive crane has hoisted a sunken tourist boat from the depths of the Delaware River two days after it was sent to the bottom by a collision with a barge.

A 25-ton crane using heavy yellow straps lowered the duck boat onto a barge around 2:45 p.m. Friday.

The boat’s canopy appeared damaged as it was lifted from the water about 100 yards from shore. Police and Coast Guard vessels surrounded the boat as it was pulled out of the water.

Officials identified a body recovered earlier in the day as one of two Hungarians missing after the accident. Hungary’s foreign ministry says the body of 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner has been recovered.

A 20-year-old Hungarian man remains missing, although a body was briefly on the surface near the site of the collision before submerging again.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The body of one of two missing Hungarians was recovered Friday from the Delaware River about two miles downstream from where a 250-foot barge collided with a stalled sightseeing boat. A second body was later spotted during salvage operations but has not yet been recovered.

The discoveries came shortly before a massive crane hoisted the amphibious “duck boat” from the river bottom Friday afternoon, revealing apparent damage to the canopy.

A statement from Hungary’s foreign ministry said U.S. authorities reported recovering the body of a female Hungarian citizen missing since Wednesday’s accident. Sixteen-year-old Dora Schwendtner was one of two missing passengers; the other, 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem, has not been found.

The girl’s body was recovered around 4:45 a.m. by members of the Philadelphia Fire Department, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Crystal Kneen.

As divers began preparations to haul the sunken boat from the water Friday morning, television cameras captured the image of a body floating face-down near the salvage site. The body surfaced briefly before submerging again.

Police did not immediately comment on whether it could be the body of the missing 20-year-old, but Lt. Frank Vanore confirmed they were searching for the body.

Around 1:30 p.m., the boat was lifted from the water about 100 yards from shore by a crane using two heavy yellow straps. A third strap was looped around the white boat as it remained in the water, its canopy and seats above the waterline.

Police and Coast Guard vessels surrounded the boat as it emerged from the water.

The Norcross, Ga.-based company that owns the duck boat operation said Thursday it had followed safety recommendations after a 1999 sinking in Arkansas, but it still suspended its operations nationwide.

Schwendtner and Prem were among 13 Hungarian students, two Hungarian teachers, four U.S. students and three U.S. teachers on a tour hosted by Marshallton United Methodist Church in suburban Philadelphia.

Black flags were raised at the victims’ school and at city hall in their hometown Friday. School principal Karoly Hansagi told MTI that a candlelight vigil would be held Saturday night.

One of the duck boat passengers, Tina Rosebrook of Davidson, N.C., told The Associated Press that she was briefly under the bow of the barge. She had time to get life jackets on her 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old niece but not herself. She found a life jacket floating on the river when she surfaced.

Police rescue boats arrived and helped them out of the water almost as quickly as they’d been submerged.

On Thursday, National Transportation Safety Board Investigators dug into their efforts to reconstruct what went wrong. They expected to spend more than a week working in Philadelphia before heading back to Washington, D.C., to continue their investigation.

Board member Robert Sumwalt said the agency would look into the condition of the vessels and whether proper protocols were followed. The NTSB planned to interview those aboard the boats, listen to recordings of radio transmissions and study videos from cameras posted nearby by the city of Philadelphia and at least two television stations.

Chris Herschend, president of the boat company, Ride the Ducks, said Friday that the captain, Gary Fox, told him he had put out a distress call on Channel 13, which is monitored by boaters but not recorded.

The Coast Guard has said that it received a transmission over an emergency channel around the time of the collision, but that no voices or other recognizable sounds could be discerned.

Sumwalt said the experience and condition of the two-member crew of the duck boat and the five-member crew of the tug would be checked out. He said tests showed none had been drinking. Drug test results were expected in about a week.

Inspection records for the sunken duck boat have been turned over to the NTSB.

Ride the Ducks has been in Philadelphia since 2003. Passengers are driven on a tour of the Old City neighborhood near Independence Hall before riding into the Delaware River from a ramp south of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Patrick Walters and Randy Pennell in Philadelphia; Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary; and Joan Lowy in Washington.

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