Two missing after barge sinks tourist boat

Rescue crews were searching today for two passengers missing after an amphibious sightseeing boat in the Delaware River off Philadelphia was struck by a barge, hurling 37 people overboard.

The six-wheeled "duck boat" which had driven into the water just after 2.30 pm yesterday local time (7.30pm Irish time), suffered a mechanical problem and a small fire, officials said. It was struck about 10 minutes later by a barge used to transport sludge, before sinking.

Searchers were looking for a 16-year-old girl and a 20-year-old man believed to have been aboard the vessel, which can travel seamlessly on land and water, police Lt Frank Vanore said. Several people went to hospital, but there were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

"It's remarkable that we're only looking for two people," deputy police commissioner Richard Ross said.

Police commissioner Charles Ramsey said divers found the duck boat in water about 50 feet deep.

Lt Vanore said crews would not attempt to recover the vehicle until today at the earliest.

US Coast Guard spokesman Thomas Peck, said neither craft was in a wrong lane.

There were 35 passengers and two crew members aboard the boat, said coastguard senior chief Bud Holden. Coastguard boats assisted by police and fire crews worked to rescue people from the water, he said.

"A barge went into us," one of the duck boat's passengers, Sandy Cohen, told WPVI-TV. "We had engine trouble, so we were just waiting for somebody else to come and tow us."

Television footage showed at least five people being pulled from the water wearing life vests in an area of the river near the Old City neighbourhood, popular with tourists.

Helicopter footage showed people in life vests being helped from boats on to a dock and at least one person on a gurney.

Hahnemann University Hospital spokeswoman Coleen Cannon said that 10 people were taken there, but two refused treatment. Patients being evaluated included two teens, two adults and three children. She said she did not have information on their conditions.

Officials said the barge was owned by the city and being directed by a tugboat. The duck boat was operated by Ride the Ducks, which also operates tours in other US cities.

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