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Towboat mishap remains a mystery

| Sunday, Dec. 30, 2001

TARENTUM: Authorities were uncertain Saturday about what caused a towboat containing thousands of gallons of diesel fuel to capsize and sink late Friday in the Allegheny River. They were hoping more clues would surface today as they prepared to remove from the vessel from the water.

The boat was carrying between 4,500 and 5,500 gallons of diesel fuel, almost 10 times the amount originally reported, according to Eureka Hose Company Fire Chief Richard Heuser. The fuel remained safely contained late Saturday, he said.

The Weavertown Environmental Group of Canonsburg was checking the boat at 45 minute intervals for signs of a leak but reported that only a small amount of oil was draining into the river. Company crews set up material around the boat to catch leaking fuel.

The boat is lying on its port side on the river bottom, with the top portion of its starboard side protruding from the surface. The boat was sitting in the middle of the river just downstream from the Tarentum Bridge.

Heuser estimated the river to be about 20 feet deep where the boat was stranded. The boat, he said, is about 60 feet long and 25 feet wide.

An additional environmental crew was expected at the scene Saturday to prepare the boat for its removal from the water today.

Four men aboard the boat who made it safely to shore were treated and released Friday night from Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison, according to Heuser. The four were wearing life jackets when they jumped into the 41-degree water, Heuser said, which helped them safely to shore.

Neither Heuser nor the hospital would release the names of the four men.

Heuser said that little insight into why the boat capsized was available Saturday. The company that owns the boat, Premier Marine of Neville Island, was unable to provide an explanation after talking to the four men on the boat, he said.

"Nobody really knows why, at this point," Heuser said.

A Premier spokesperson could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The Coast Guard also was called to investigate the accident. A Coast Guard spokesperson, however, did not return calls for comment.

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