Two bodies taken from sunken tug

Victims' families gather to see boat lifted from Elk River

2 other victims sought

Crash with freighter being investigated by Coast Guard

March 03, 2002|By Andrew A. Green and Lane Harvey Brown | Andrew A. Green and Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Salvage crews raised yesterday the tugboat that sank on the Elk River last week, and state officials recovered the bodies of two of the four men who were killed in the accident.

The bodies of crew members Ronald L. Bonniville, 32, of Hayes, Va., and Clarence McConnell, 47, of McClellanville, S.C., 47, were recovered about 5:20 p.m. from a berth compartment below deck.

Two other missing crewmen, Captain William Bryant of Virginia Beach, Va., and his nephew, Justin Bryant of Supply, N.C., made it off the boat but were pulled underwater, according to witnesses.

Five of the Swift's crew escaped from the craft and were rescued.

Searchers planned to resume looking for the other two bodies early this morning.

The Swift and its accompanying convoy of tugs and barges collided Monday morning with the A.V. Kastner, a 520-foot freighter.

The accident released 100 gallons of diesel fuel and 5 gallons of motor oil, said Lt. Russ Bowman, lead investigator for the U.S. Coast Guard.

"We were actually prepared for much more," he said late last night.

Divers saw no obvious external damage to the Swift, and the Coast Guard will conduct a hull survey before releasing the vessel to Norfolk Dredging Co. of Chesapeake, Va., to be towed home.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to do a survey of the canal bottom before reopening the busy passageway.

Dozens of relatives of the victims gathered on the Town Point peninsula south of Chesapeake City as divers made the final preparations to raise the Swift. Shortly after 3 p.m., a crane on the barge floating over the sunken tug began lifting the vessel to the surface.

For two hours, only a small section of the stern and the port - or left - side of the hull were visible as crews worked painstakingly to right the tug, which had been resting on its starboard - or right - side at the bottom of the 35-foot-deep shipping channel.

Shortly after 5 p.m., the salvage crew righted the 60-foot vessel and pumped the water out of it. The first investigators to board the tug were officers of the Maryland Natural Resources Police, who investigate all deaths on the state's waterways.

The Swift, was on its way to Delaware City for a dredging job. The night before the accident, the Kastner, which was carrying a load of gypsum to Baltimore, contacted the Swift's convoy and arranged for the freighter and the convoy to pass each other the next morning.

As the Kastner headed south from the end of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, a thick fog enveloped the Elk River. Coast Guard officials are investigating how the vessels collided, but whatever the cause, witnesses say the Swift sank rapidly into the fast-moving, 42-degree water.

Bonniville's sister, Vicki Bonniville O'Neill, said seeing the boat raised yesterday rekindled some of the grief she felt when she heard about the accident.

"It's in stages," she said. "There's the initial accident, you have that grief, and then the process of retrieving the boat and that grief."

She said about 19 members of Bonniville's family and the family of his fiancee, Liz Kellum, had traveled from Virginia to Cecil County to await the raising of the Swift and, they hoped, the recovery of his body.

"We're trying to keep our spirits up and reminisce," O'Neill said. "He was a very funny guy, and we've just been telling stories about him. He would have wanted it that way."

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