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Barge captain: Training helped workers save boaters after deadly Ohio River crash

Updated: Apr. 26, 2021 at 5:20 PM CDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Rescue teams have recovered the bodies of two boaters who had been missing since their boat collided with a barge on the night of Thunder Over Louisville.

Crews found Madison Yates, 22, of Coxs Creek Saturday evening near the Salt River. The Jefferson County coroner believes Yates drowned shortly after the crash, near the Greenwood Boat Ramp on April 17.

The Meade County Coroner’s Office confirmed with WAVE 3 News a man’s body was found around 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Calls came into officials regarding a possible body in the water near homes by Long Branch Road in Brandenburg. He has not been identified yet.

Hayden Spencer, 20, also died after being people pulled from the Ohio River after the crash. He was taken to UofL hospital where he later died.

Four other people were saved shortly after the boats collided when barge workers jumped into the water.

“They were rescued by the barge workers,” Pleasure Ridge Park Fire Chief Doug Recktenwald said. “They were transported to the shore and transported to UofL hospital.”

In Mark Dougherty’s eyes, what happened last week is a tragedy.

“It’s always a tragedy when a pleasure boat and a commercial boat come together,” Dougherty said. “I’ve had some close calls. Thank God I’ve never had an incident. It’s a sad situation, it really is.”

Dougherty has spent the last decade as the training manager for American Commercial Barge Line. He’s spent more than 40 years on the water in a variety of roles, including as a captain.

He told WAVE 3 News barge companies are federally regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard and must train for several situations, including man overboard scenarios. He credited that training for preparing the barge workers who were involved in the crash to rescue the struggling boaters.

”You rise to the level of your training, you know,” Dougherty said. “If you don’t have the training, if you don’t know what to do, and you haven’t done it and practiced and practiced and practiced, then everybody’s running all over the place and they don’t have a concerted effort to respond. So, the training is key and it’s critical for any emergency situation.”

Dougherty said during a man overboard situation, a crew member must alert the boat’s captain that a man has fallen overboard. From there, the captain sounds the general alarm, alerting all crew to report to the deck. The crew member who witnessed the person fall overboard must maintain visual contact with the victim and point toward his or her location. Other crew members must then put on the necessary PPE and make contact with the captain. From there, they can attempt a rescue using a life ring or a life vessel.

Sometimes, crews will have only minutes to make the rescue.

“In the wintertime, in January and February, you don’t have a lot of time, because of the water temperature being so cold,” Dougherty said. “As the water gets warmer, they can survive longer. But hypothermia in the wintertime will set in pretty quickly.”

Dougherty said we are entering into the busiest time on the Ohio River. As summer approaches, he wants pleasure boaters to make sure they know what barges look like, especially at night, and how to avoid them if necessary.

“It’s like trying to cross a railroad track right before the train gets there,” Dougherty said. “Trains can’t stop on a dime, neither can our towboat. You don’t want to play chicken with us. We’re going to be able to watch out for you. We hope you’re watching out for us as well.”

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