Cleanup, investigation of freighter accident under way
In this story:
December 16, 1996
Web posted at: 2:00 p.m. EST
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- Officials said Monday they would attempt
to reach unexamined riverfront areas damaged Saturday when a
735-foot freighter ran into a popular tourist area along the
The Bright Field, a freighter operated by a Hong Kong
company, took out a 200-foot section of Riverwalk mall and
the parking garage of the One River Place condominiums. The
adjoining Hilton hotel reported 20 rooms sustained serious
damage, but the hotel continued to operate.
An estimated 1,000 people were in the mall when two of its
three levels collapsed into the water. No fatalities have
been reported and most of the approximately 140 people who
were injured have been released from hospitals.
Some areas still unreachable
New Orleans Fire Department officials said they had still not
been able to reach a collapsed parking garage because the
wreckage was too unstable.
New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial said rescue officials were
attempting to stabilize the areas damaged by the freighter.
"Thus far, we don't have any confirmed reports of anyone
unaccounted for. So we're hopeful that the good news will
continue and thus far, it may be nothing short of a miracle
that there have been no fatalities," he said.
He said officials hoped to allow the portions of the mall
which were not damaged to reopen.
The freighter, carrying a load of corn, apparently lost power
as it made a turn in the Mississippi.
Pilot called a hero
The pilot of the ship, Ted Davisson, is being credited with
saving lives, but he told reporters "I just did my job...
that's all I did."
Authorities said by dropping the anchor, Davisson was able to
bring the freighter into the shore between two cruise ships
and a gambling casino with 800 people on board.
Capt. Joe Clayton of the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship
Pilot Association, said if it had not been for Davisson's
quick response, the damage would have been much worse.
Had Davisson not maneuvered the freighter to reduce its
momentum, sounded the warning horn and contacted officials on
shore, Clayton said, "he could have possibly killed people on
the dock and further down the dock, we feel certain it would
have rolled the gambling vessel."
Clayton said the freighter was traveling too fast for
tugboats to have steered it away from the riverfront.
Investigation to focus on cause of power failure
John Hammerschmidt of the National Transportation Safety
Board said investigators had interviewed the crew and made an
initial inspection of the ship and its engines. Davisson and
the crew passed an alcohol and drug test, which is required
Speculation has centered on a lube oil pump which crew
members indicated caused the freighter's engine to lose
power, in turn causing the vessel to lose the ability to
"At this juncture, we're not quite sure that that lube oil
pump actually failed, and, from what we've seen initially,
and this is very, very preliminary, the shipboard systems
seemed to function as designed," said Hammerschmidt.
(357K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Hammerschmidt said the NTSB investigation might take as long
as a year, but, "If we do see a major safety concern, we
typically issue urgent safety recommendations."
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