The U.S. Coast Guard released recordings Friday of radio traffic from the afternoon of July 7, when a duck-tour boat capsized after a barge hit it on the Delaware River.
The first indication of trouble comes from an unidentified voice, possibly a ferry captain, who sounds as though he is witnessing the accident.
"Hey! Ferry, ferry, ferry! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" the voice shouts on Channel 16, the emergency frequency.
A short time later, the captain of the tugboat Freedom contacts the Coast Guard to alert it about the accident.
"One of the duck boats off Penn's Landing just got, uh, looks like they got run over by a barge. I'm going in to pick them up," the captain says.
He repeats his report with more urgency.
"Yeah, this is Freedom. We've got people in the water off Penn's Landing," he says.
A Coast Guard official then asks how many people are in the water.
"No idea. I don't have time to talk to you right now. I'm going to get the people," the captain says.
A Coast Guard official later alerts vessels in the area that about 30 people are in the water and tells ship crews to keep an eye out for them.
Eventually, the captain of the tugboat Caribbean Sea contacts the Coast Guard to say the barge he was pushing had apparently hit the duck boat.
"Yeah, we're right here next to the ducks, uh, the ship Freedom. We're the ones that, I guess, capsized the duck boat," the Caribbean Sea captain says. "We are on scene making sure nobody got injured or if we can help in any way. We do have a barge alongside, so there's not much we can do."
The Coast Guard official then asks the Caribbean Sea crew to toss overboard any life jackets or flotation devices they have.
The amphibious duck vehicle was carrying two crew members and 35 passengers that afternoon. Two members of a Hungarian tour group died when the 250-foot barge ran over the duck.
The recordings released Friday were taken from the emergency channel recorded by the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.
The company Ride the Ducks operates the river-tour service. It ceased operations after the crash, but on Friday, three of its boats went back into the water for what company spokesman Bob Salmon described as an "internal inspection."
Beginning about 2:15 p.m., three vessels briefly entered the Delaware, with only one crew member aboard each. No timetable has been set for Ride the Ducks to return to service.
"We're trying to get ready to get back in operation," Salmon said, adding that the company made a practice of "constantly reviewing [its] vehicles" before the July 7 accident.
Though the company is in talks with the Coast Guard about resuming operations, Coast Guard Capt. Todd Gatlin declined to discuss a timetable for a potential return.
A few passersby watched Friday as the boats entered the water in shifts from Ride the Ducks' "Splash Zone" on Race Street under the Ben Franklin Bridge. Each vehicle turned right toward Penn's Landing - barely in view of those gathering on the pier in the sweltering heat - then turned around and left the river within a few minutes. No two boats were in the water at the same time.
When the tests ended around 2:35 p.m., two of the amphibious vehicles headed north on Columbus Boulevard; the third drove south toward Market Street.
In an interview Friday, Douglas Oliver, spokesman for Mayor Nutter, acknowledged the Street Department's failure to file mandatory annual reports on tour-vehicle safety, as required by a 2006 city law, since the inception of the legislation.
"The bottom line is: It's a law," Oliver said. "It should have been implemented."
The department has begun compiling reports on the years it missed, he said.
Contact staff writer Matt Flegenheimer at 215-854-5614 or firstname.lastname@example.org.