Destrehan, LA Ferry GEORGE PRINCE Struck by Tanker, Oct 1976
4 DEAD, 50 HURT IN BOAT MISHAP.
Destrehan, La. (UPI) -- A fully loaded ferry boat carrying commuters to work collided with a 664-foot tanker and sand in the Mississippi River today, trapping passengers in the wreckage and sending others into the water.
Authorities said at least four persons were killed. Two dozen survivors were reported at area hospitals and another 30 to 50 were missing.
"At the present time we have four known dead, but we feel this thing is going to climb real fast," said a state police spokesman.
A Coast Guard spokesman said ferry GEORGE PRINCE had a capacity of 20 cars and 50 walk-on passengers and was believed fully loaded at the time of the accident.
The ferry sank near mid-stream within 15 minutes of the collision with the Norwegian tanker Frosta, a 22,000-ton vessel. Coast Guard divers were brought 30 miles upriver from New Orleans to search the wreckage for survivors.
"They are tapping on the hull and waiting for any return tapping," said a Coast Guard spokesman. "The river current is very fast, and that's hampering the diving efforts."
Temperatures were in the low 40s when the collision occurred at dawn and survivors clinging to debris were forced downstream by the current and 30 mile-an-hour winds.
"I was on (the ferry) when it flipped over and I went into the water," said JEAN WOLVERTON, 36. "I tried to swim to shore, but I couldn't make it. A large man held out his hand and pulled me to the ferry railing."
Dozens of small boats were in the area within minutes to rescue survivors, but authorities feared many of the missing may have been trapped inside their cars. The river was closed to all shipping in the area of the collision.
The GEORGE PRINCE carries commuters between the small towns of Destrehan and Luling, two river communities populated by oil refinery workers. President FORD had stopped at the Destrehan Ferry landing three weeks ago, while on a riverboat campaign swing through Louisiana.
One witness said the tanker blasted the ship's whistle before the collision.
"It looked to me like the ship blowed for the ferry," said JERRY MAYE, who witnessed the accident from another nearby ferry. "He blowed four or five times."
Delta Democrat Times Greenville Mississippi 1976-10-22
22 BODIES RECOVERED, 56 STILL LOST IN FERRY MISHAP.
Destrehan, La. (UPI) -- A floating crane today raised the wreckage of a Mississippi River commuter ferryboat that collided with a tanker, capsized and sand [sic] with heavy loss of life.
Authorities said 22 bodies have been recovered and at least 56 persons were missing. A disaster coordinator predicted the death toll would exceed 100.
Most victims were oil and chemical workers enroute to their jobs.
Only 18 persons were known to have survived the predawn collision Wednesday 30 miles upstream from New Orleans.
"It's my feeling that the death toll is going to go over 100," said St. Charles Parish sheriff JOHN O. ST. AMANT, director of disaster operations. "It's a very, very tragic thing."
If the death toll is confirmed, the collision will be the worst disaster on the river since 1,000 persons died in an explosion aboard the steamboat Sultana near Memphis, Tenn., in 1865.
The GEORGE PRINCE was rammed broadside by the 664-foot Norwegian tanker Frosta. The 120-foot ferry capsized and sand within 15 minutes, hurling passengers and cars into 90 feet of water.
Thirty-nine vehicles plunged into the river. Some were located a half-mile from the crash site.
Diver FRED HURT said all victims were retrieved from the ferry Wednesday and the rest were either trapped in the cars or floating in the river where the current is about four knots.
"We went through the whole thing," HURT said of diving operations into the ferry. "There was no air space anywhere."
HURT said both doors to the passenger cabin were found open and some windows smashed. He said he could not determine whether the windows were broken by passengers or by the force of the collision with the Baton Rouge bound tanker.
At nightfall Wednesday divers suspended their search to allow crews from a New Orleans shipyard to begin lifting the ferryboat with a twin 600-ton floating crane. Rescue workers huddled around bonfires to keep warm in 40-degree temperatures during the lifting operations.
One man suffered minor injuries before dawn when a cable from the crane popped and hit him on the head.
After half of the ferry was lifted from the river, divers were sent back down to seal off the hatches and doorways which remained underwater.
Most of the bodies recovered Wednesday were pulled from the wreckage of the ferryboat, but authorities said other victims could be entombed in their cars at the bottom of the swift-moving river.
"There was no way to tell how any people were on the ferry," said CHARLES ROEMER, state commissioner of administration. "There could be as many as 100 persons involved."
Most of the passengers were on their way to work in the oil and chemical plants along the river.
Some of the victims were believed trapped in automobiles that slid from the deck of the GEORGE PRINCE and tumbled downstream in the fast-moving river.
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