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HORROR ON THE DELAWARE RIVER

A survivor describes how her tourist boat was sunk by a barge.

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - Sandy Cohen looked up from the deck of a small, amphibious tourist boat stalled in the river to see a barge towering three stories above and approaching fast, clearly not about to stop. Then came the screams.

Over the next few seconds, she and other passengers fumbled to put on life jackets and sought cover as best they could. Next came a crash. Then the boat flipped over, and the 37 people aboard were thrown into the Delaware River.

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

A photo obtained by Philadelphia TV stations shows the barge as it rides up on the stern of the sightseeing "duck" boat and starts pushing the vessel underwater. It would sink to the bottom of the Delaware River.

Two other Hungarian passengers, part of the same language program as the teen who shared Cohen's life jacket, remained missing Thursday, a day after the accident. The Coast Guard suspended its search for the two, 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szablcs Prem, just before 7 p.m. Thursday. Petty Officer Crystal Kneen said the Coast Guard searches only "as long as the possibility of survival is there."

The six-wheeled duck boat had no history of mechanical problems before the crash, said Chris Herschend, president of Ride the Ducks, the Norcross, Ga.-based company that owned it. He said it appeared that the captain followed all proper procedures during the emergency. The company hopes to raise the boat soon.

The crews of the tourist boat and a tugboat pushing the barge tested negative for alcohol. Drug test results were not expected for about a week.

The first sign of trouble came when smoke started to roll out of the tourist boat's engine as it entered the water, Cohen told the Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday from her home in Durham, N.C.

The tour guide told passengers that a tug boat would come to take them back to shore, Cohen said. She was on the phone with her husband to let him know that she would be late when the call ended abruptly as other passengers began screaming.

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

Cohen, 67, grabbed a life jacket 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 that a girl was also hanging on to 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.

The tour group included 13 Hungarian students, two Hungarian teachers, three U.S. teachers and four U.S. students.

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