Excursion vessel collided with barge

Published 7:02 pm Sunday, April 1, 2007

A Friday morning collision between the excursion vessel River Explorer and a barge that broke loose from its tow caused damage to the Explorer but no injuries among the 160 people aboard.

The Explorer, owned by the RiverBarge Excursion Lines of New Orleans, makes frequent stops in Natchez and was scheduled to be in Natchez Tuesday, said Carolyn Vance Smith, whose Elderhostel tours through Educational Travel Associates frequently cruise on the Explorer.

Smith and her staff were preparing to load materials and supplies aboard the vessel during its stop at Natchez in preparation for a river tour that was to begin in Memphis on April 7.

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Smith said she had been in touch with the excursion line president, Jeff Kindl, who described the accident to her and said he expected the hotel barge to be repaired and back on the river within weeks.

Efforts to reach Kindl directly on Saturday were unsuccessful.

“They had a nine-minute warning,” Smith said, describing the barge that broke away from the tow being pushed by the tug James E. Nevin of the Commercial Barge Line Co. The accident took place at 10:30 a.m. Friday just north of New Orleans.

“The pilot saw what was happening, and they went right into action and got everyone in a safe place,” she said.

“The collision caused a hole in the River Explorer and they did take on water, but the pumps were working fine, and they were in no danger,” she said.

“Of course we’re canceling our trip. We had 150 enrolled plus 25 staff and assistants who were going on the trip,” she said. “It really has knocked us for a loop.”

An Associated Press wire report on Saturday stated that the accident is still under investigation.

That report quoted Larry Conrad of the excursion company as saying the River Explorer was to have been taken to New Orleans Friday night after the remaining water was pumped from the damaged side of the boat.

Margaret Hall of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours said she had received calls to cancel tours the River Explorer upriver group would have taken Tuesday as well as those planned for Smith’s downriver group the next week, a total of about 200 people.

Dr. James T. Coy III, manager of NPT, said his main concern was for the safety of the people and he was glad to learn there were no injuries in the accident.

“My first thought was, ‘was anyone hurt,’” Coy said. “I’m sorry there are people whose trips will be diverted, but the main thing is that they are safe.”

Smith said those who were supposed to board the River Explorer with her on April 7 will have other opportunities, both later this year and next year.

“May 24 is our next trip, and we expect that to be on go,” she said.