The Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle, occupied by 35 passengers and two crew members, rolled over and sank in 40 feet of water, spurring a frantic rescue by eye-witnesses both in boats and on shore. The Ride the Ducks vehicle had experienced mechanical problems, was disabled without power, anchored on the river, and waiting for assistance, when struck.
All occupants on the Duck were plucked from the river, except for two young tourists from Hungary, who still have not been found.
Ride the Ducks is a Georgia corporation, which has about 90 vessels in several cities. It has operated in Philadelphia since 2003, where it currently has 15 vehicles.
The barge involved was city-owned. It was being pushed upriver by a private tug company, K-Sea Transportation Partner LLC, which owns the tug boat. K-Sea is headquartered in East Brunswick, NJ. The company said that the tug's crew of five all had proper Coast Guard licenses.
Being amphibious, "hybrid" vehicles, the Ducks are subject to a variety of local, state and federal laws and regulations. They are regulated as a business operation by the City of Philadelphia. They are subject to the motor vehicle laws of Pennsylvania while on streets and highways. Afloat, the Coast Guard regulates the Ducks, mostly by conducting inspections for safety compliance.
This tragedy will be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
My guess is that there was no forward lookout stationed on the barge at the time of the collision, and that the tug's forward view was impaired by the barge, riding "high", as it was empty.
As mentioned in previous blog entries, passengers who are killed while riding in motor vehicles almost always have strong wrongful death claims, as they could not have participated in the "wrongful act, neglect or default" that caused their demise. This would apply to the two dead students in this case.
The U.S. Federal District Court is likely the best jurisdiction to bring suit for wrongful death on behalf of the two young decedents from Hungary, should settlement negotiations not prove to be fruitful.