By Dave Taylor
An interesting sighting of a two-story paddle wheel houseboat cruising down the river Monday became a lot more interesting when the boat suddenly turned on its side and sank.
Rob Payne happened to be at his house at the edge of the Ohio River west of Lewisport when he watched as the unusual sight turned to an emergency.
“I watched him for about five minutes,” Payne said. He’s seen lots of traffic on the river in the three years he’s lived the house on the northern tip of Carl Young Road, but the two-story paddlewheel houseboat stood out.
“That’s very out of the ordinary. That’s why I was like, whoa, that’s kind of different,” he said.
He watched as the mostly white boat headed toward a sand bar near the middle of the river almost directly in front of his house, but he said it then steered across the river like he was avoiding it.
The boat then turned back down river, but Payne said it looked to be having troubles.
“It looked like he was staying toward Indiana because he was having problems,” he said.
As soon as it turned down river, it began to list to the left.
“I was just sitting there looking at it thinking, ‘that’s a neat looking boat’ and I took a picture of it and then it went over…” he said.
And it went over quickly and dramatically.
“It was gone within I’d say a minute, it was sunk,” he said. “It fell over. It was like wind blew it over and it just fell and just sunk… You heard it when he crashed. It sounded like a tree crashing in the woods.”
He called 911 and while he was on the line he saw a man floating in the water who made it back to what little was above the top of the water.
“He got up on top of the wreckage, I guess, and just sat there,” he said.
A nearby dredging ship also saw the boat sink and sent out a small boat to rescue anyone from it, and took them to the boat ramp on the Indiana side of the river at Grandview.
Payne and local officials didn’t have any contact with those from the boat, but the accident is being investigated by conservation officers with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, the agency that investigates all water accidents.
“Any boat accident, any drownings, on public waters in Kentucky have conservation officers with the department investigate,” said Kevin Kelly, spokesman for fish and wildlife.
As of late Tuesday, there wasn’t a lot known about the accident.
“There are still several questions that the investigating officer’s trying to get answers to,” Kelly said.
“What we know, there were at least two occupants on board who were brought safely ashore on the Indiana side at Grandview,” he said. “Both of those occupants were male, one is from West Virginia, the other’s from Minnesota.”
“The department will just continue its investigation and try to contact those individuals to learn more,” he said. “There are still some questions about what kind of vessel it is.”
There were no reported injuries, but the boat itself still lies underwater near the middle of the river.
“The person who the boat’s registered to will be advised to remove the boat from the water,” Kelly said.
He was unsure whether there’s a timeframe for that removal, or whether the spot would be marked somehow to warn other vessels on the river.
An investigation continues, but Kelly said the results would take a while.
“It could be weeks to months, I will say that,” he said.
For now Payne is going to keep an eye out for what happens to the boat, a tiny piece of which sticks up above the water. Watching it sink was new to him, but so will watching someone recover it.
“Definitely the most interesting thing I’ve ever witnessed living there,” he said.