Philly duck boat tours resume after fatal crash

April 21, 2011 2:39:31 PM PDT
Amphibious duck boat tours resumed Thursday on the Delaware River in Philadelphia nine months after a deadly collision with a tugboat-steered barge forced them from the water.

Sightseers who boarded the amphibious Ride The Ducks tour boats said they were not worried about their safety in the wake of the July 7 collision that killed two Hungarian tourists.

"The first thing I wanted to do was ride the ducks," said Stacy Crain, a visitor from Baltimore who had taken the tour last year before the collision that sank one of the amphibious crafts, sending 37 people tumbling into the water.

"I felt safe last year; I feel even more safe this year. I feel that it wasn't Ride The Ducks' fault but they got the short end of the stick."

The tour splashed into the Delaware River on Thursday morning, taking a scaled-down route that goes only about 100 feet from shore and lasts 10 minutes, down from 30 minutes previously. A spotter boat is also being used to track the tour craft in the event of an emergency.

Passenger Tim Jansen, of Croydon, Pa., said the additional precautions were appreciated.

"I heard the safety issues they're taking now about locating the barges and ships before entering the water," he said. "I feel safe and confident that I'll have a good ride."

An engine problem was the first in a series of events that ended in the collision that killed Szabolcs Prem, 20, and Dora Schwendtner, 16. Federal investigators found the tour boat's calls to the approaching tug went unheeded in the moments before the crash.

A National Transportation Safety Board report determined the tugboat's pilot was distracted by repeated cell phone calls about a family emergency on the day of the collision. Federal prosecutors are reviewing the case.

Norcross, Ga.-based Ride the Ducks had tried to move its operations to the quieter Schuylkill River, but the city rejected the plan over concerns the tours would interfere with other recreational activities.