Ill communication: Tugboat pilot texting before crash

Like a cliched public service announcement about driving a car and talking on the cell phone, the National Transportation Safety Board’s findings into the fatal duck boat crash last summer released yesterday includes damning proof against distracted driving.

Most egregious evidence comes from the cell phone log of the city-contracted tugboat driver at the time of the July 7 tragedy, first mate Matt Devlin, who an attorney for K-Sea Transportation told NTSB was dealing with a family medical emergency. He made or received 18 calls on his cell phone while steering the 80-foot barge upriver before it eventually ran over a “Ride the Ducks” tourist vessel.

On that smaller vessel, the “lookout” on the duck boat, shiphand Kyle Burkhardt, exchanged four text messages with his girlfriend in the 10 minutes just before his vessel was sunk, according to the report.

“So you have first mate Matt Devlin on his cell phone at time of accident and deckhand lookout Kyle Burkhart texting his girlfriend,” said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who is representing families of two Hungarian tourists killed in the crash. “When you are the operator of a vessel or aircraft or vehicle, dealing with a family medical emergency doesn’t give you the right to cause a medical emergency to someone else.”

The NTSB didn’t reach any conclusions in the 4,400 pages of documents released on its website yesterday, saying that will come in the next couple months.

Duck boats still on course

Ride the Ducks president Chris Herschend believes the report goes a long way toward restoring the much damaged confidence the public has in the company.

“Today’s factual report notes that the tug pilot was on his cell phone for 13 minutes before the crash,” he said. “And the Caribbean Sea had no lookout posted.”

He says the company is getting close to restarting tours, noting that it could begin operations again as soon as the end of this month.

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