NTSB: tugboat pilot short on sleep?

| 6/4/2002

The captain who piloted the tugboat and barges that collided with the I-40 bridge in Webbers Falls, OK, May 26 had slept for less than 10 hours the 41.5 hours preceding the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined.

NTSB investigators would not speculate whether tugboat pilot William Joe Dedmon had fallen asleep at the wheel. According to news reports, Dedmon, 61, claims he doesn't remember anything after passing a channel buoy about a half-mile from the bridge.

The barges veered off the navigational channel on the Arkansas River and rammed a support beam, causing a 580-foot section of the bridge to collapse and sent 10 vehicles into the water. Fourteen motorists were killed.

Dedmon claims he "blacked out" and did not fall asleep. A spokesperson for the Vicksburg, MS-based Magnolia Marine Transport Co., which owns the boat Dedmon was navigating, said the sleep Dedmon had before the accident is not unusual. "We felt like he was rested enough," the spokesperson told news reporters.

Federal regulations do not require a specific amount of sleep for a tugboat pilot, a Coast Guard spokesperson said. Regulations do say a pilot must be on watch no more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period, except in an emergency.

NTSB investigators have determined Dedmon took over his captain's duties between 5 and 6 a.m. Sunday. The bridge was struck by the barge at 7:45 a.m.

Investigators said Dedmon reported being awake 14 and a-half hours, then sleeping 3 and a-half hours, being awake 14 and a-half hours more and then sleeping six hours before beginning his shift the morning of the accident.

Dedmon agreed to routine urine and blood tests after the collision. Federal investigators said they have not determined an official cause of the collision.