Recent rains made the river more dangerous than usual.
INDUSTRY, Pa. (AP) -- A tugboat pushing six barges of coal sank after entering a dam on the Ohio River early Sunday, killing three crew members and injuring three others. A seventh crew member was missing and believed to be aboard the submerged boat.
The accident happened shortly after 2:30 a.m. when the M/V Elizabeth M was going through the Montgomery Island Dam. The boat was pushing six coal barges, three of which were loaded, according to a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Officials believe the tug operator may have tried to swing the boat around to help crew members who were aboard barges when the current swept the vessels into the dam. When that happened, the barges likely pushed the boat through the dam, said Richard Lockwood, chief of operations of the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and John Anderson, the lockmaster.
"I would say the whole thing didn't take five minutes until he was through the dam," Anderson said. The water in the area normally flows about 3 to 4 miles per hour, but was going about 10 to 15 miles per hour because of recent rains and flooding, he said.
The tug was headed north when the accident happened, said Thomas Llewellyn, the fire chief in Industry, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The tug sank in the churning water just below the dam; three of the barges sank downriver from the dam, while the other three barges sank above the dam.
"The worst thing was, you could see two people in the boat screaming for help," over the rush of the water, said Chuck Ward, assistant fire chief, who was among the first at the scene. But the rushing waters were too dangerous for the fire crews on land to enter, he said.
Several towboats that were nearby were able to get close to the boat and helped in the recovery.
Sorting out the details
Don Grimm, president of tug owner Campbell Transportation Co. Inc. of Charleroi, said he didn't know exactly what happened.
"He was shoving out of Montgomery lock and dam, and something happened -- we have no idea -- and the boat went over the dam," Grimm said. "We're concerned about the crew members and their families right now."
The deceased crew members were identified as Scott Stewart, 36, of Wheeling, W.Va.; Tom Fisher, 25, of Latrobe, Pa.; and Edward Crevda, 22, of West Brownsville, Pa. The Coast Guard said the three injured crew members were taken to Beaver Valley Medical Center and Aliquippa Hospital.
Officials said they believed the seventh crew member was still on the ship, but they wouldn't be able to be sure until the waters recede somewhat.
The Coast Guard has restricted traffic along five miles of the Ohio River near the dam.
About a dozen onlookers gathered at the scene Sunday afternoon.