One week before a civil trial is scheduled to begin in the fatal 2010 Ride the Ducks boat accident, plaintiffs' lawyers released a dramatic video showing detailed images of the crash that killed two students.
An edited 10-minute, 22-second clip shows the 250-foot barge Resource slicing through the calm waters of the Delaware River on a warm July 7, headed directly for the tiny white amphibious vessel, stalled because of engine trouble.
At 6:36:43 on the tape, a shadowy figure can be seen jumping off the prow of the duck and swimming away. Moments later, the barge overruns the duck and submerges it.
The two crew members, along with 33 of the passengers — about half of whom were on a church-sponsored trip from a small town in Hungary — were able to safely reach the shore at Penn's Landing. But two of the Hungarians, Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, drowned.
The video, which will be presented as evidence, came from the National Transportation Safety Board, said Robert Mongeluzzi, one of the lawyers representing the Hungarian families. Although the NTSB has declined to identify the source of the video, Mongeluzzi said, "My guess would be it is military."
The timing of the video's release, he said, was not strategic. "Everything was filed with the court today, so it's in the public record. We felt that this is important for people to see. There's important information here." Furthermore, he noted, reporters had submitted numerous requests since the NTSB initial report was filed, he said, "asking to see the Department of the Army video. We just got it. The request had been there for months."
Schwendtner and Prem's parents will be in the courtroom for opening arguments on Monday before U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O'Neill, he said.
The substance of the nonjury federal trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks, has to do with limited-liability rules in maritime cases.
Mongeluzzi said that K-Sea Transportation Partners, the owner-operator of the tugboat, which was pushing the barge, along with the Georgia-based company which operates Ride the Ducks, is contending that according to an 1851 federal law, its maximum liability should be the value of the vessels involved in the accident.
The companies have reportedly set the tug's value at $1.65 million and the Ride the Ducks vehicle at $150,000 (based on the value of the salvaged duck). Mongeluzzi said he and his colleagues will argue that the accident resulted from inadequate employee training and repeated failures to enforce safety policies and procedures both on the tugboat and the Ride the Ducks vessel.
Spokesmen for Ride the Ducks and K-Sea said they could not comment on pending litigation.