Duck boat captain sues towboat firm, city over July crash in Philly that killed 2 Hungarians

By Maryclaire Dale, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Duck boat captain sues tow, Philly in deadly crash

PHILADELPHIA — A tour boat captain sued the city of Philadelphia and operators of a towboat that pushed a huge city barge into his amphibious vessel, leaving two Hungarian tourists dead.

Captain Gary Fox of Turnersville, N.J., said he may not recover from injuries suffered in the July 7 crash or be able to return to work. He feared he was going to die while trapped underwater with his passengers in the Delaware River and blames the crash on the defendants’ negligence and carelessness.

He also suffered injuries to his back, head, neck arms and legs, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The parents of the two Hungarian tourists who were killed have also sued K-Sea Transportation Partners of East Brunswick, N.J., along with the city and others. K-Sea operated the towboat, which the city had hired to move its sludge barge up and down the Delaware River.

Fox worked for Ride the Ducks, a Norcross, Ga.-based company that operates land-and-water tours in several U.S. cities.

His 33-foot boat was stalled in the river’s busy shipping channel when the allegedly unmanned 250-foot barge struck it. The crash sent Fox, his deckhand and all 35 passengers into the water.

The National Transportation and Safety Board, in a recent preliminary report, found that Fox’s distress calls to the towboat went unanswered. Fox said his airhorn didn’t work because he had to shut down the electrical system after seeing smoke.

“Although other vessels heard Duck Boat 34’s radio calls, the tugboat did not respond to Captain Fox’s radio transmissions and did not change its course,” Fox said in his suit, filed in city court by lawyer Robert E. Slota Jr.

Neither Slota nor Fox immediately returned calls Thursday. The city had no comment on the pending litigation, a spokeswoman said. A K-Sea spokesman said the company had no immediate response.

Drug and alcohol tests on the crews of both vessels were negative, the NTSB said. The mate piloting the tugboat has declined to answer investigators’ questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. His lawyer, Frank DeSimone, has said he is concerned that involuntary manslaughter or other criminal charges could be filed by federal prosecutors.

The two Hungarians who drowned, 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem, were touring the city as part of a church-sponsored exchange program. Their parents’ lawsuits also charge that the canopies on Ride the Duck’s amphibious boats can entrap passengers underwater.

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