Duck Boat Passenger Describes Horror, Panic

Kevin Grace testifies about the last minutes, then seconds before a barge came barreling down on the stalled tour boat and what he did amid the chaos to save his daughter's life when he couldn't get her life jacket strapped on

By Karen Araiza
|  Tuesday, May 8, 2012  |  Updated 11:41 PM EDT
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On day two of the wrongful death trial in the duck boat crash of 2010, passenger Kevin Grace told a riveting story on the stand of the last minutes and then seconds leading up to the crash.

New Jersey Gov’t camera

On day two of the wrongful death trial in the duck boat crash of 2010, passenger Kevin Grace told a riveting story on the stand of the last minutes and then seconds leading up to the crash.

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Duck Boat Passenger Describes Horror of Crash

Day two of the wrongful death trial in the duck boat crash of 2010 took place Tuesday. During the trial, duck boat passenger Kevin Grace described the panic of the deadly crash. NBC10's Terry Ruggles reports.
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"Tremendous, tremendous horror and panic at what was about to happen."

That's how duck boat passenger Kevin Grace described the seconds before the deadly crash -- when people realized a barge was about to run them over. Their tour boat was disabled in the middle of the fast-moving Delaware River.

On day two of the duck boat wrongful death trial, Grace told the story of how the only lifeline between him and his nine-year-old daughter was the tight grip he had on her hair as the crash plunged them into the murky waters.

"The river just rose up and swallowed us. . .it was the most horrible thing you can imagine," Grace said.

Grace testified that even as the barge approached, he did not remember the Ride the Ducks captain or deckhand telling them to put on their life jackets.

"I did look up and see that Kyle [the deckhand] had jumped off the boat to swim away at which point I was thrown in to quite a panic because if he jumps, obviously this is going to happen."

Grace testified that he tried to get a life jacket on his daughter but everything happened so fast, he could only get it over her head, but not strapped around her.

"The initial impact came with loud screams from the rest of the people on the boat. The back of the boat went down. I turned to look to see there was water coming up the aisle. People were rushing up the aisle, they were pushing up against me, the metal is screeching and the boat is pitching and turning."

They were going down so fast, Grace said he didn't even have time to take a breath.

"The only thing I could do was just reach up and grab a handful of hair [his daughter's] and just hold on. . .I was holding on to her hair and I had an iron grip on her hair and that was her only lifeline, my hand on her hair."

Grace said going underwater inside the duck boat was like being in a washing machine with a bunch of strange objects. He didn't know which way was up. When he and his daughter popped up on the surface of the water, it wasn't over.

"Almost instantly, we were under water again. . .I didn't know if we were being sucked under because the boat sank underneath us. . .but we were completely under water again," Grace recounted.

"We popped back up again, everyone's crying, trying to find people they knew."

The crash sent 35 passengers and one other crew member into the river. All but two survived. Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, drowned. The two Hungarian students were in Philadelphia with a church group. Grace had been sitting right across from them during the Ride the Ducks tour.

The families of the students sued the duck boat company and the tug boat company. After this morning's testimony, the judge urged the two sides to try to settle their case. They are attempting that with a second judge.

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