PHILADELPHIA-Video footage played Monday at the opening of a wrongful death trial over a U.S. boat crash that killed two Hungarian tourists shows one of them toss a deckhand her life jacket moments before their sightseeing boat is rammed by a barge.
Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi told a federal courtroom that 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner’s final moments were spent trying to help deckhand Kyle Burkhardt, who dove overboard seconds before the boat was run over on Philadelphia’s Delaware River.
“Dora throws her life preserver to Kyle Burkhardt to save his life … and she loses her own,” Mongeluzzi told the court.
The families of Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem are suing tugboat operator K-Sea Transportation and sightseeing boat operator Ride the Ducks over the July 2010 accident that killed the two tourists and sent more than 30 other passengers into the water.
The families claim unclear safety policies and ineffective training and procedures caused the crash.
Outside the courtroom, Schwendtner’s father told reporters through an interpreter that he had no words to describe seeing the footage of his daughter’s final selfless act.
“This is the type of person she was,” Peter Schwendtner said.
K-Sea Transportation and Ride the Ducks each blamed the other – and tugboat pilot Matthew Devlin, who was sentenced in November to a year in prison after pleading guilty to the maritime equivalent of involuntary manslaughter.
K-Sea attorney Wayne Meehan told the judge that Devlin had a “meltdown” and abandoned his post amid a family emergency and failed to call the Coast Guard as required after he “lost his faculties.”
Mongeluzzi also said the tour company was at fault because the boat was designed so the radio and air horn didn’t work when the boat’s engine was shut down.
Ride the Ducks attorney Jack Snyder argued that nothing the company or the crew did that day caused the victims’ deaths. He said the boat was helpless when it was struck.
Snyder said the barge had plenty of room to get around the sightseeing boat but could not because the tugboat was being driven blind and deaf. Devlin had the radio turned down and would not have been able to hear an emergency air horn.