Salvage operations planned for tugboat that flipped over in Detroit River

Wednesday, October 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Rescue crews turned their focus to salvage operations after they were initially unsuccessful in finding two people who were thrown into the Detroit River when a converted tugboat capsized and sank.

Salvage operations were planned Wednesday for the J.W. Westcott II, a vessel that delivered mail and crew to passing ships in the Great Lakes. The boat, an official U.S. marine post office, is believed to be the only one in the world with its own Zip code.

The search for deckhand Dave Lewis, 50, and Catherine Nasiatka, 48, who was at the wheel of the Westcott, was postponed Tuesday after they had not been located by dark.

The accident occurred during a pilot change between the 45-foot boat and the Sidsel Knutsen, a Norwegian tank ship carrying gasoline, said Coast Guard Lt. Commander Brian Hall.

Two Canadian freighter pilots were rescued from the water and taken to a hospital in Windsor, Ontario, where they were treated and released, said Canadian Coast Guard spokesman Lawrence Swift.

Capt. Alain Gindroz, 41, one of the freighter pilots, said water rapidly filled the cabin, and the tug quickly flipped.

He said he forced open the door as the cabin filled with water and Capt. Tom Roesslein, 38, followed him to safety. The tug sank in about 20 seconds, Gindroz said.

``It was pitch black. There were no lights. There was nothing. It was pandemonium,'' Gindroz said.

Detroit police divers located the sunken tugboat several hours later.

The accident was being investigated by the Coast Guard and Transport Canada, along with Detroit authorities. The Sidsel Knutsen continued on toward Sarnia, Ontario.

The Westcott, built in 1949, operated around the clock and averaged 6,000 runs from April through mid-December.

Ed Moore, manager of communications for the Detroit Post Office, said he did not expect the relationship between the postal service and J.W. Westcott to end with the accident. He said the company has another boat capable of delivering mail to passing ships.