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Crewmember lost when towboat sinks in Louisiana; 4 people survive

Aug 26, 2015 12:23 PM

A mariner is presumed dead after responders concluded that he was likely trapped inside a towing vessel that capsized in the Mississippi River. Four other crewmembers escaped.

The 63-foot uninspected tow vessel Miss Natalie sank at about 0800 on May 30 in the Lower Mississippi River below Convent, La. The incident occurred four miles downriver from the Sunshine Bridge. 

Four crewmen managed to exit the boat before it sank. A fifth man was thought to have remained inside, St. James Parish President Timothy Roussel said in early June.

Because of high water, the vessel had yet to be salvaged a month after the accident. Miss Natalie is owned by Western Rivers Boat Management of Paducah, Ky. 

“The Miss Natalie remains sunk,” Mitch Smith, Port of South Louisiana’s operations director, said in late June. “Salvage activity was suspended because of high river conditions.” 

Earlier, the Coast Guard issued a notice to mariners to use caution transiting around the submerged vessel.

On May 30, four of five crew were immediately recovered by a good Samaritan, said Coast Guard spokesman Jonathan Lally in New Orleans. “Overall, more than 12 Coast Guardsmen responded to the incident, including helicopter crews, inspectors and command-center watch standers,” he said. Two MH-65 Dolphin helicopters and a 45-foot response boat were deployed from Coast Guard stations in New Orleans.

The missing mariner’s identity was not released.

Smith said crew on the Port of South Louisiana’s PSL Responder, a 57-foot Dauntless-class vessel with surveillance equipment, used 3D Echoscope sonar to help locate the towboat. 

“After that, the Responder’s crew remained on the scene to assist the Coast Guard in enforcing a safety zone around the scene,” he said. The Echoscope is subsea sonar, patented by Coda Octopus Group in Florida.

Together, Coast Guard and Port of South Louisiana personnel conducted five sorties, totaling 15 mission hours and covering 85 river miles.

Divers arrived a day after the capsizing. “An attempt was made by commercial divers to access the towing vessel on May 31 and another effort was made on June 1,” Lally said. “But currents were too swift for them to reach the vessel safely.”

Mississippi River traffic was restricted on May 30 between 1000 and 1720 hours from mile markers 158 to 162, above Head of Passes, where the river branches in three directions.

Miss Natalie’s wreckage is located at roughly 30 03.476° N, 090 50.965° W (MM 161.8) near the right descending bank, according to the Louisiana Maritime Association. On June 5, the wreck was under 70 to 80 feet of water. Because of rising water, planned river closures for salvaging at mile 162 in early June were canceled until further notice, the association said.

When asked if high water, the river’s fast currents or weather played any roles in the capsizing, Lally said causes were still under investigation.

Western Rivers Boat Management didn’t respond to a request for comment in June. The vessel, built in 1980 by Childress Marine Co. in Foley, Ala., was called Jane C until 1999, when it was renamed Miss Natalie. The boat was repowered in 1987.

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