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Delayed approach, lack of 'decision point' led to Atchafalaya bridge strike

Apr 24, 2020 10:16 AM

After waiting for the swing span to open, the captain of Edna T. Gattle was unable to line up the tow correctly, the NTSB says

NTSB illustration

The following is a marine accident brief from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):

(WASHINGTON) — On April 24, 2019, at 2348, the towing vessel Edna T. Gattle was pushing the barge Terral 2 downbound on the Atchafalaya River through the Union Pacific railway bridge at mile 41.5, near Krotz Springs, La., when the captain lost control of the tow and the vessel and barge made contact with the bridge and piers. As a result, the barge sustained $26,748 in damage, and the bridge sustained $500,000 in damage and was out of service for three days. No injuries or pollution were reported.

Probable cause

‚ÄčThe National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of Edna T. Gattle and the barge’s contact with the Union Pacific railway bridge was the captain allowing the tow to proceed beyond a safe decision point without confirming the status of the bridge opening, given the high river current.

Analysis excerpt

Regulations governing bridges over navigable waters state that bridges must open promptly and fully for the passage of vessels. However, bridges can fail to open for a variety of reasons, including train traffic or mechanical issues. When the captain initially found the bridge unopen, he began backing to avoid hitting the closed bridge. The captain stated that he felt in control of the vessel until he started backing up. He did stop in time to avoid hitting the closed bridge, as discussed in Terral’s procedures. However, despite backing and attempting a second approach, the captain was unable to line up the vessel correctly to transit the bridge. With a strong current pushing the vessel to starboard, the captain was unable to recover and make a better final approach.

Though the bridge was slower to open than average, the captain and company should have anticipated such contingencies and planned mitigating actions, especially given the higher than normal river current. Since the company did not include decision points in its operation procedures for the Union Pacific railway bridge transit, the captain did not have a set location to stop and reassess the approach to the bridge once he realized that the bridge would not be open in time for his transit as initially planned. Had the captain slowed or stopped earlier at a planned and specified decision point before the bridge, he would have had more time and distance to make his second approach correctly.

Click here to read the complete report.

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