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Officials blame distraction, maintenance for duck boat crash

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Federal transportation officials on Tuesday blamed a tugboat navigator distracted by using his cell phone and a laptop computer for the July 2010 collision of the boat with an amphibious sightseeing craft that killed two Hungarian tourists.

The accident occurred when the Ride the Ducks International craft known as a duck boat stalled in the Delaware River in Philadelphia, where it was hit by an empty barge called being pushed by the Caribbean Sea tugboat.

Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, of Hungary died in the crash. Dozens of passengers were dumped in the river, and ten suffered minor injuries, authorities said.

In its report, the National Transportation Safety Board said the probable cause of the accident was failure of the tugboat navigator to keep a proper lookout because he was in the boat's lower wheelhouse and was repeatedly using his cell phone for personal calls and also a laptop computer while being solely responsible for navigating the vessel.

Contributing to the accident, it said, was the failure of maintenance workers on the duck boat to keep its radiator pressure cap in place and their decision to anchor the stalled boat in an active navigation channel.

Families of the victims, contacted in Hungary, were horrified by the findings, said one of their attorneys, Peter Ronai.

"They were in shock that there were so many colossal failures by both companies in a country so technologically advanced as the United States," he said.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the crash.

Families of the victims as well as people who were injured in the collision have filed lawsuits against the boat companies in Philadelphia's main state trial court,

Before those cases proceed, they must go through U.S. District Court which will determine how maritime law might limit the companies' liabilities.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)

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