Fishermen say barge was out of channel long before crash; NTSB studying...

Fishermen say barge was out of channel long before crash; NTSB studying GPS satellite images

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Many witnesses think the towboat and barges involved in last month’s deadly bridge collapse were outside the Arkansas River’s navigational channel long before they struck the bridge, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the possibility.

The Robert Y. Love and its barges were outside the channel at least 2½ miles south of the Interstate 40 bridge in eastern Oklahoma, men who attended a May 26 fishing tournament told the newspaper.

Joel Henderson, attorney for barge owner Magnolia Marine Transport Co., of Vicksburg, Miss., said the river’s meanders and the channel buoys’ wide spacing make it hard to determine a boat’s exact position.

The NTSB, citing Global Positioning System satellite images, has said the towboat turned west out of the navigation channel shortly before striking the bridge pilings. It is now beginning to investigate the tow’s earlier course.

Towboat pilot William Joe Dedmon has told investigators he blacked out just before the crash, which toppled about 500 feet of the roadway and sent 14 motorists to their death in the murky water below.

Holloway would not say how the fishermen’s accounts would affect the investigation or whether the fishermen have been contacted. But he said the board will match witness accounts to other information it obtains.