Barge and powerboat collide off Brooklyn

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Two men died in the collision; a charter fishing boat captain recounts the rescue of two survivors

Two men died in the collision; a charter fishing boat captain recounts the rescue of two survivors

It was a night that Brooklyn, N.Y., resident and longtime charter fishing boat captain David Paris — and his 30-some passengers — would not soon forget.

Around 10:50 p.m. the night of Oct. 20, a 24-foot Baha Cruisers 240 WAC walkaround apparently hit the hawser of the tug Melvin Lemmerhirt, which was towing a barge, throwing the four men on board the pleasure boat into the water as the boat capsized in Ambrose Channel.

Two survived, but two did not. None of the boaters was wearing a life jacket.

Paris, aboard Capt. Dave, his 70-foot wooden party boat, came to the rescue of the New Jersey skipper whose name was not immediately revealed by the Coast Guard. Paris says although the seas were a little choppy, the weather was clear with winds blowing at about 17 knots.

“I was fishing in that area that night with 30 people,” says Paris, who fishes out of SheepsheadBay in Brooklyn. “I saw this tug blowing its danger signal and I think he’s blowing it at me, but it’s going east and I’m going west.”

Lemmerhirt was towing a barge filled with dredged material on its way to a mud disposal site near Sandy Hook, N.J., according to the Coast Guard.

Paris says he was about a quarter-mile away from the tugboat when he saw crew from the tug shine a spotlight on the hawser. Shortly after, the pleasure boat hit the cable, dumping the anglers into 64-degree water. Paris says he radioed the Coast Guard but got no reply so he contacted the tug and a crewmember told him what happened and they began looking for the boat and men in the water. After about 10 minutes, Paris’ 12-year-old son Paul spotted the skipper clinging to the hull of the capsized boat.

“We threw him a life ring and got him in,” says Paris. “The man was going into shock and we put some blankets on him and gave him some soup. We finally got him to tell us there were three more guys, and we were off on a big search.”

Rescue boats from Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook and New York arrived soon afterward.

“[The skipper] told me that this was their first time fishing at night,” says Paris. “He told me that they shouldn’t have been out there.”

New York City Police Department divers found the three other men in the water beneath the boat. Steven Jackson, 46, of New Jersey survived. Robert Chacon, 47, of Saddle Brook, N.J., was pronounced dead when he was pulled from the water, and John Isello, 43, of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., was pronounced dead a short while later, after he was transported by NYPD helicopter to the Brooklyn shore.

“It was pretty cold in that water, and it was an hour before they found them,” says Paris.

Meanwhile, the 30 other passengers on the boat had to wait until almost 1 a.m., when the Coast Guard picked up Jackson, but the night wasn’t over yet. On the way back, Paris and his crew say they picked up a sailboarder who told them he had been clinging to his board for more than six hours.

“It was crazy — he thought he was going to die,” says Paris.

The skipper of the recreational boat was taken by boat to Staten IslandUniversityHospital and Jackson to KingsCountyMedicalCenter. Both were released in stable condition.

Paris said since both the tug and the barge were lit, he speculated that maybe the fishing boat skipper thought they were two separate vessels.

“My point of view is they thought the barge was a ship, and they didn’t want to go behind the ship,” Paris speculated. “So they thought if they went behind the tugboat stern they would clear it.”

Paris says by the time they realized their mistake, they were already on top of the hawser.

“I think these guys just didn’t know what they were doing,” says Paris. “Everyone had their lights on, and the tugboat was sending out warning blasts — they should’ve just stopped where they were.”