Hope fades for 2 in boat crash

Photo by Matt Rourke

Photo by Matt Rourke

PHILADELPHIA -- Sandy Cohen looked up from the deck of a stalled tourist boat to see an enormous barge approaching fast, and it was clear it wasn't going to stop. Then came the screams.

Over the next few seconds of terror, she and other passengers fumbled to put on life jackets and ran for cover as best they could. Next came a crash, the boat flipped over and 37 passengers were plunged into the Delaware River.

Cohen came to the surface, clinging to the life jacket she had managed to snag seconds before. A Hungarian teenager on the tour was hanging onto the jacket too.

Two fellow passengers in the U.S. for the same language class as the teenager have not been found. Hope faded for finding them alive Thursday. The search was continuing for the pair, a 16-year-old girl and 20-year-old man, but visibility in the 50-foot-deep water was too poor to send divers in.

The boat had no history of mechanical problems before it caught fire, said Chris Herschend, president of Ride the Ducks, the Norcross-based company that owns it.

The captain appears to have followed all proper procedures during the emergency, Herschend said at a news conference. The company hoped to raise the boat to the surface soon, he said.

It started out as just an inconvenience when smoke started to roll out of the boat's engine as it entered the water, Cohen, 67, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday from her home in Durham, N.C.

The tour guide said a tug boat would be on its way to carry passengers back to shore, she recalled. She was on the phone with her husband to let him know she'd be late, but the call ended abruptly as other passengers screamed.

''Someone said, 'Oh my God, there's a barge coming, and it doesn't look like it's stopping,''' she said.

She grabbed for a lifejacket from a hook above her seat as the boat was struck and started to sink. She was quickly underwater, grabbing the jacket with one hand as her feet tangled up with those of others.

When she surfaced, she said, she realized the girl was also hanging onto the jacket.

''I just told her, 'Don't let go,' and made sure we both stayed calm,'' she said.

They were rescued five to 10 minutes later.

''It was a very harrowing experience. It was surreal,'' Cohen said.

The Hungarian group on the tour was hosted by a Methodist church in suburban Philadelphia. A Hungarian consular official picked up two women and two teenagers from the home of the church's youth group leader and took them to a meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who was outlining the city's response and ''expressing our condolences,'' said Maura Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

''Our prayers for comfort are with you, youth group, leaders, and Hungarian friends, in this difficult time,'' said a statement on the church's website.