Strong current 'overwhelmed' pilot before tow hit lock walls, NTSB says

A Corps of Engineers workboat also was struck in the accident on the Ohio River

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

(WASHINGTON) — At about 1555 on Dec. 18, 2018, the towing vessel Mary Lucy Lane, with eight crewmembers on board and pushing a tow of 12 barges, was locking southbound at the Markland Locks and Dam at mile 531.5 on the Ohio River, when the tow struck the lock’s wall, then its guard wall. Several barges broke loose and continued forward, one of which hit the moored U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workboat Gibson. No injuries or pollution resulted from the accident. Damage to Mary Lucy Lane, the barges, and the dam was estimated at $321,943, and the Corps of Engineers estimated the cost to replace Gibson at $1.8 million.

Probable cause

‚ÄčThe National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the contact of Mary Lucy Lane tow with the Markland Locks and workboat Gibson was a strong outdraft above the dam caused by the extreme high flow conditions, which overwhelmed the pilot’s ability to control the Mary Lucy Lane tow before locking.

Analysis excerpt

The Mary Lucy Lane pilot told investigators he had made the same approach to the Markland Locks and Dam in high water conditions in the past without any issues. However, he was out of position from the beginning on the day of the accident. In fact, the approach of the tow was far enough from the shore that the Markland lock master felt the need to activate the security camera in order to record what was happening. Although the pilot was able to get the head of the tow into the forebay, the outdraft caused by the high current pulled the tow toward the dam. The pilot was able to keep the vessel from being overwhelmed by the current and pushed downstream to the dam but was unable to prevent it from striking the guard wall or the guide wall. In this case, better communication between the lock operator and the approaching tow may have ensured that the tow operator was aware of the challenging local conditions.

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