3rd Mate, Master Testify at Delta Mariner Hearing
By Barry Wright
PADUCAH, KY - The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board’s hearing into the crash of the Delta Mariner into the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge in late January continued Thursday at Paducah City Hall with the ship’s former third mate, Captain Frank Altany, walking through what happened on the ship prior to the crash.
Altany says he began watch around 5:45 pm and was briefed by second mate Shawn Quinn on general conditions, how long the other person had control of the helm, any river conditions or anything else that was important. Altany said shortly thereafter he took control of the helm and began steering for about an hour or so.
Coast Guard Investigator Lt. Nicholas Parham asked Altany if he came back on the helm prior to the crash. Altany says he didn’t believe he did and that chief mate John Newland relieved him somewhere around 7 pm. Parham also asked Altany to talk about the weather conditions that night. Altany says it was a little misty with some light rain here and there, but there weren’t any showers while he was driving the ship.
When Parham asked him about the lighting that he saw on the bridge, Altany says he saw red and green lights. He added that the pilot had the ship going toward the green lights and realized that wasn’t the proper span, but thought it could still get through there. Altany was made aware of the situation after a lookout shined a spotlight and realized the proper span was to the left and the lights were out on it. He says he didn’t see anything on radar that caused concern. The ship went over to the span to get lined up with the lights. Altany says it’s his personal practice to stand by the helm in case of a steering malfunction or whatever the situation is.
Altany says the master came to the wheelhouse a couple of minutes before the crash and discussed with the pilot about what could be done because he was concerned. They did not ask him what the ship had been doing prior to the crash.
He also says there are occasions that the lighting scheme on a bridge will not match the chart book. He says they will probably record it in the chart book and call the Coast Guard to report it. Parham also asked Altany if he saw any white lights on the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge and if so, what did they indicate. He says he didn’t see any white lights, but they are used to direct a ship toward the preferred channel for navigation.
Altany also said he never questioned Newland’s competency or pilot advisor Captain William Collins’ competency during the situation. After the ship crashed into the bridge, the crew was called into the galley for a head count and then dropped anchor.
Coast Guard Chief Investigator Lt. Jamie Salinas asked Altany if it was unusual for the master to come up to the wheelhouse and ask you where you are at. Altany said no and that the master would also question maneuvers but not in a challenging way.
Altany also told Salinas the pilot or chief mate never asked him for clearance in the wheelhouse and doesn’t know if there are any alternate span measurements for the bridge are on the ship.
Altany mentioned to Salinas that other bridges the ship has traveled under have multiple navigational spans while others have only one navigatable channel. He says they are properly lit most of the time and that many have triple white lights on the spans.
He also told Salinas that he didn’t question the red and green lights on the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge, but did after realizing that it was the wrong span and nothing could be done.
Altany told Sonny Smith, an attorney for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, that during his time on the Delta Mariner that the ship always used the correct channel to navigate under the bridge and never used any other span.
He also told Smith that he did not have any knowledge about the lighting system on the bridge prior to Jan. 26.
Bobby Miller, an attorney for Foss Maritime, showed a picture of the bridge taken when another ship struck it on Nov. 15, 2011. It showed all the lights working on the bridge at this time. When Miller asked Altany if those same lights were working the night the Delta Mariner crashed into the bridge, he pointed out that he could only see the red and green lights.
Altany left Foss Maritime in early March after being with the company since June 2006. He says no disciplinary action was taken against him.
The master of the Delta Mariner, Captain Lloyd Patten, also gave his account Thursday of what happened prior to the ship crashing into the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge.
Patten, who works as a rotating captain on the ship six months out of the year, told NTSB investigator Liam LaRue that he woke up about 7:30 pm, grabbed a cup of coffee and went up to the wheelhouse to check on the crew. He says he was only there about 10 seconds. While in the wheelhouse, he noticed that pilot advisor Captain William Collins had the search lights on and had the two bridge piers lit up. Collins made a comment about the span and made Patten aware of it.
Patten told Collins that if the boat needed to be turned around, that it needed to be done now. Collins said that the ship would be alright, and at that point, Patten became focused on the span. Patten added that he looked over chief mate John Newland’s shoulder to check the speed and pitch of the boat and moved back a few steps. Patten didn’t have his night vision then, but began to focus on the approaching span. Patten says within a few seconds after that, it became apparent that the distance between the mast and span was going to be close. After a few more seconds, Patten says the mast headlight hit the bridge. Patten says he arrived at the wheelhouse about a half-mile before the crash.
LaRue asked Patton if he considered stepping in to take action. Patton said “no” because he felt the navigation team was doing their job and didn’t feel ready at that time to take action on something that he was unsure of.
Patton told LaRue that he would not let the crew take the ship under an alternate span of the bridge unless he was given a reason to do so. He says it should always go under the main span.
Patton told Kevin Moore, an attorney for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, that he doesn’t believe the Delta Mariner would ever stop under a span of the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge to measure for clearance.
As for trying to pass under other spans of the bridge, Patton says he’s not aware of that ever happening.
He also believes chief mate John Newland could have turned the ship 180 degrees to prevent an emergency situation from happening without the help of the river pilot.
Patton says the anchor could have been dropped in an emergency situation as well, but that would have caused a bigger problem for the ship because it would have damaged it along with the ship's cargo and lives would have been lost.
The hearing continues Friday at Paducah City Hall with testimony from Delta Mariner pilot advisor Captain William Collins.