Deck hand who was ex-pilot, 81, dies after falling from Ohio River ferry

An 81-year-old retired ferry pilot working as a deck hand died after falling into the Ohio River.

On Dec. 10, 2013, Virgil K. Souder fell off Deborah A, one of three ferry vessels operated by Anderson Ferry, a privately owned ferry operation across the Ohio River west of Cincinnati. The ferry line, in existence since 1817, runs three ferries once or twice an hour, depending on traffic, between Constance, Ky., and Cincinnati.

Authorities said Souder was not wearing a life jacket when he fell off Deborah A, a 38.5-foot towboat that pushes the barge Boone No. 9, which holds 15 cars. Federal law does not require crewmembers working aboard such vessels to wear life jackets.

Deck hand Virgil Souder, above, was found dead after he fell off the Ohio River ferry Deborah A, below.

Dennis Camp photos

Souder and the captain were 40 minutes into a four-hour shift, making the 12-minute crossing carrying commuter vehicles. The captain didn’t notice Souder missing until the ferry reached the Ohio landing, when he sounded the man-overboard alarm.

Local rescue crews were called to the ferry landing at about 1400 and conducted a search. A tugboat spotted Souder about two miles downstream at about 1430, according to the Hebron Fire Protection District.

Two towboats from McGinnis Towing responded to the emergency call and helped to recover Souder. The crews on Vivian McGinnis and B.T.U. Special worked together to bring Souder on board and took him to the company dock on the Ohio side of the river, where he was transported to a local hospital, according to Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Mark Nemec with the Cincinnati Marine Safety Detachment.

Souder died at the hospital that evening. On the day he disappeared from the deck of Deborah A, the water temperature was in the low 40s and the air temperature reportedly was lower than that.

Souder had retired from his position as captain with the company due to health reasons, but continued working as a deck hand on the vessels, with 50 years of experience on the river. Anderson Ferry representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead investigating agency, Nemec said. He would not answer questions about the potential causes of the accident. It was still under investigation in February.

By Professional Mariner Staff