Over the years there have been many dramas enacted on or near the Delaware River and Bay. Having grown up along the southern reaches of the river, close to where it becomes a bay, I was always drawn to the river and enjoyed watching the ship traffic. The history of the area has always been one of my very favorite subjects. The abundant variety of ship traffic on that waterway, rushing up and down the river with all kinds of goods aboard, was a source of wonder and mystery. Who drove the ships? Where were they headed? What did they carry? Several times, when I was awakened in the middle of the night by massive explosions on the water, and saw flames licking the sky, a question arose; what happened out there to cause the tragedy?
On a cold winter day, January 5, 1950, a collision occurred between the Delaware River Ferry Company-owned ferry LACKAWANA, of 1079 gross tons, bound from Bridgeport, New Jersey, and the Greek steam freighter FOTINI, of 7176 gross tons, bound from Philadelphia to sea. The two vessels collided at 0814 when the weather was “cloudy, smoky, and foggy, and visibility was less than 250 feet. An ebb tide of better than one and one-half knots was flowing, and the collision occurred near the eastern edge of the main ship channel. One passenger of the ferry was fatally injured.
The bow stem of FOTINI struck the LACKAWANA on her starboard side, approximately 35-feet aft of the ferry’s bow. The bow of the FOTINI penetrated the ferry approximately fourteen feet through the overhang of the car deck to the main hull. The hull was opened slightly. When the ferry was hit, the victim, Mr. Lymburner, was pinned against the side of the car that was just ahead of the one in which he had been riding. Another passenger, a daily commuter, went to his assistance and called for first aid. That passenger attempted to reach Mr. Lymburner over the hood of the car, but was unable to do much more than touch him with his fingertips.
The two vessels, after being surveyed by their crews as to the extent of damage, then separated. My Lymburner slipped into the water along with the debris. The brave commuter passenger, without hesitation, jumped into the water after him. Mr. Lymburner was being carried by the current away from the side of the ferry. He was unconscious and lying face-down in the water. The commuter swam to him, turned the victim face-up and was then able to swim back to the ferry with him that way and grasp a strut for support.
Three life rings with lines attached were thrown to him. He was able to get a hold of two of them and used them to support himself while he held Mr. Lymburner across his body keeping his face above water. The commuter was unable to do anything further as his hands started to become numb from the cold water. He was unable to tie
one of the lines around the person he was assisting. Another passenger then jumped into the water fully clothed, including a heavy Army O.D. sweater, to assist the commuter in saving Mr. Lymburner.
In proper maritime fashion, “Man Overboard” had been loudly sung out when Mr. Lymburner was seen to fall into the water. The master of the ferry ordered the starboard lifeboat lowered. That action, however, took approximately eight to ten minutes to accomplish. The delay was due to the immediate necessity of issuing life preservers to the passengers and insuring the safety of the vessel. Before the three crewmen in the lifeboat could pick up the men out time the master blew a special whistle signal to the wharf personnel indicating that assistance was required.
Mr. Lymburner was placed in an ambulance about five minutes after reaching the dock, and taken to the Chester Hospital. He died there about three hours later.
The Pilot aboard the FOTINI was ultimately charged with failure to exercise the prudence and caution in the pilotage of the FOTINI required under the conditions existing at the time.