Towboat executes rapid rescue of sinking harbor tug’s crew

Capt. Tim Maxfield, master of Audrey Fouts.  He praised his crew for their quick and cool response to the emergency. (photos by Jeff Yates)


Capt. Tim Maxfield, master of the 3,200-hp towboat Audrey Fouts, credits routine safety drills for much of the success in his vessel’s safe recovery of two crewmembers whose harbor tug suddenly sank at Guntersville, Ala. on July 21.

The 800-hp, 58-by-24 foot Miss Hannah had just completed its assignment to assist the 150-by-35 foot Audrey Fouts in assembling its barge tow in the Guntersville Harbor at Tennessee River mile 358.6 and was on the way back to its dock when the crew discovered their vessel was in trouble.
Maxfield said he was still monitoring the VHF radio channel being used by Miss Hannah when he heard the smaller boat’s pilot radio the deck hand that their boat was in trouble. “I heard him tell the deck hand, ‘You better get back here. I think we’re sinking,'” Maxfield said.
“When I looked over that way, the boat was listing badly to starboard and the stern was already underwater. I knew they were in trouble, and I got my guys off the tow and aboard the boat, and we proceeded towards them,” he said. “As Audrey Fouts neared Miss Hannah, it rolled over on its starboard side. The pilot and deck hand left the pilothouse on the low side.”
As Miss Hannah rolled over, Maxfield lost sight of both men and didn’t know their status until his crew found them in the water when they arrived with the rescue boat.
Maxfield stopped Audrey Fouts within 200 feet of the stricken vessel as Chief Engineer Ricky Greer swiftly lowered the vessel’s utility boat into the Tennessee River. Deck hands Kevin McCoy and William Fields were dispatched to the main deck to help launch the small boat and hold it in place for the rescuers to board and prepare to rush to the sinking vessel. Mate Charlie Halter and Relief Mate Robert Zollinger zoomed over to the floundering harbor tug, where they found the pilot and deck hand in the water.
Neither the pilot, Ed McReynolds, nor deck hand, Clay Parker were injured in the incident. “They were just wet and scared,” Maxfield said following their rescue. “It was all over in a matter of five minutes.”
It took only three minutes to launch the rescue boat and within two minutes the men were safely aboard and were headed back to Audrey Fouts, he added. (McReynolds is the manager of the Guntersville barge fleeting and switching operation and was filling in as a relief operator on the vessel at the time of the incident.)

Audrey Fouts is a 3,200-hp, 150-foot towboat. Its crew was able to launch its rescue boat in just three minutes.
“We weren’t in that water a minute before those guys were picking us up,” McReynolds said in praise of Audrey Fouts’ quick responders.
Audrey Fouts’ crew also played a major role in the prompt containment of the diesel fuel that leaked from the sunken boat’s vents. Maxfield said that within 30 minutes the spill was contained. He said Greer and Zollinger took spill kits from Audrey Fouts and boomed off the fuel collecting on the river’s surface and had everything contained and under control.
Maxfield praised his crew for their close cooperation and quick level-headed response. “They responded very well and very quickly,” he said. “They got an opportunity to actually use what they’ve been trained to do.”
Audrey Fouts is operated by Tennessee Valley Towing Inc. (TVT) of Paducah, Ky. TVT bought the 51-year-old boat last year from Teco Barge Line.
Miss Hannah is owned by Mirco Industries, of St. Louis, which charters it to Guntersville Marine, Inc.
After Miss Hannah was raised on Aug. 13, a split was found along the starboard side of the hull. The vessel’s insurance company is still awaiting survey reports and repair estimates before determining the vessel’s future, McReynolds said.
Capt. Harley Hall, vice president of operations at TVT, complimented the Audrey Fouts crew. “All those safety drills paid off,” he stated.
By Professional Mariner Staff