Divers stop search for 3rd Hudson River tugboat crash victim

AP News
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Posted: Mar 13, 2016 9:59 PM
Divers stop search for 3rd Hudson River tugboat crash victim

NEW YORK (AP) — Police divers late Sunday stopped searching inside a sunken tugboat for the body of a third crew member who went missing after the boat crashed into a barge on the Hudson River north of New York City.

"It has moved from a rescue and recovery operation to a salvage operation," said Westchester County Police spokesman Kieran O'Leary, who added that county police helicopter and marine unit boats will resume searching the river surface Monday on the remote chance the body of Harry Hernandez, 56, of Staten Island, New York, was ejected from the boat.

O'Leary said police dive operations ceased permanently because divers were not able to access a section of the tugboat where they believe his body is located due to severe damage.

The 90-foot tugboat named Specialist hit a barge early Saturday morning near where the new Tappan Zee Bridge, which connects two counties north of New York City, is being built. The tugboat sank, spilling about 5,000 gallons of fuel into the water.

Earlier, divers recovered the body of Timothy Conklin, 29, of Westbury, Long Island, New York. His body was brought back to shore after divers found him inside the tugboat around 11 a.m. Sunday.

The body of Paul Amon, 62, of Bayville, New Jersey, was pulled from the water Saturday.

Authorities said three tugboats were pushing a barge from Albany to Jersey City, New Jersey, when one of the three — situated on the right side as it headed south — hit a stationary barge that was part of the Tappan Zee Bridge construction project. A tugboat on the left side of the barge that was being pushed, as well as one that was pushing the barge from the rear, were not involved in the accident.

But there were reports of radio transmissions from the tug that crashed saying, according to Cuomo, "We are too close. We have to move left." But it apparently was too late, the governor said.

Authorities believed the sunken tug is wedged directly underneath the barge it struck at the mid-span of the bridge.

Cuomo said he had been "hoping for a miracle" that the men would be found alive.

Instead, the governor said Sunday that he spent some time with the Conklin family, "which is obviously still in shock."

Cuomo said in a statement that 21 workers were on the bridge construction barge that was hit, but none was injured. He added the construction barge was illuminated at the time of the pre-dawn collision.

Commercial divers from a salvage company retained by the tugboat owner are expected to arrive on the scene Monday to assess the damage and figure out how to remove the wreckage from the river, O'Leary said. The company will then submit a salvage plan to the Coast Guard for approval, he said.

"When that's under way, police will be present if they find a body," O'Leary added.

The accident occurred near the center of the existing Tappan Zee Bridge, and the Specialist sank in about 40 feet of water within minutes, authorities said. The water temperature in the area was about 40 degrees, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Cuomo said a team was on site to contain the leaking diesel fuel and he did not expect any long-term damage as a result of the spill.

James Mercante, an attorney for the owner of Specialist, said the crew was licensed, competent and experienced personnel. He called the crash "a shocking, horrific marine tragedy."

A spokeswoman for Tappan Zee Constructors, a consortium of companies building the new bridge, said the company is cooperating in the investigation.

The crash occurred near the scene of a 2013 boat crash that killed a bride-to-be and her fiancé's best man.

The new bridge is to replace an adjacent aging span that now connects Westchester and Rockland counties. Construction on the $3.9 billion project began in October 2013 and is expected to be completed by 2018.