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Crew members said they heard no alarm before barge crashed into bridge; toll rises to 13

By Clayton Bellamy The Associated Press
Wednesday May 29, 2002

WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. — Rescuers hoisted two vehicles with four bodies inside from the murky Arkansas River on Tuesday, bringing the death toll from the collapse of an interstate bridge to 13. 

Lightning, rain and rising waters hampered the rescuers, who picked their way through the muddy water searching for an unknown number of people still missing after an out-of-control barge hit the Interstate 40 bridge and knocked out a 500-foot section of highway. 

“We’re determined because we know there’s family members out there wondering if one of their own is in here,” said Dennis Splawn, a diver with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. 

The bodies of seven women and six men have been recovered from the waters below the ridge, said highway patrol Lt. Chris West. With the help of sonar, a crane had hoisted 10 vehicles from the pile of mangled concrete and twisted steel. 

A champion horse trainer and a police detective were among those killed, authorities said. 

About 10 families of people trapped in cars at the bottom of the river waited at the Webbers Falls City Hall for news. About a dozen vehicles plummeted into the water Sunday morning after the barge hit. 

Earlier Tuesday, an investigator said towboat crew members’ accounts support the towboat company’s contention that the pilot had blacked out. 

George Black of the National Transportation Safety Board said a crewman who visited with captain Joe Dedmon five to 10 minutes before the accident said everything seemed normal. 

Others who were not with the captain said they heard no alarm or change in the sound of the engine that would indicate he was trying to avoid a crash, Black said.