NTSB: Pilot’s Underestimation Of Current Caused Todd Brown Sinking

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report on the sinking of the 1,800 hp. mv. Todd Brown on April 17, 2017, that concluded that the probable cause of its sinking was “the pilot’s underestimation of the effect of the river current on the barge string being maneuvered during a de-drifting operation.”

The Todd Brown sank when it allided with a string of moored barges along the right descending bank of the Lower Mississippi River near Mile 940, about 4 miles from Columbus, Ky. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $1.5 million.

The Mississippi River was running at a “historically high level due to excessive runoff from melting snow and recent rainstorms,” according to the report. On April 17, gauges at Cairo, Ill., measured 36 feet, or 4 feet higher than normal. The Coast Guard had established an Incident Command Unit to coordinate response efforts to flooding and to issue tow size restrictions.

The report said that the increased current brought a “substantial amount of debris” such as tree limbs that accumulated by the head of the moored barges, increasing strain on the mooring lines. In order to remove the debris, or “drift,” boats such as the Todd Brown would perform de-drifting operations in which barges would be untied to allow the river current to flush debris downstream.

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At about 1:30 p.m., the Todd Brown and another Ingram towboat, the 1,020 hp. Ot Adkins, began to reposition a string of four empties from the No. 8 fleet to the No. 6 fleet upstream before returning to the No. 8 fleet. The Todd Brown’s pilot had 17 years of experience, and the horsepower of both boats exceeded company recommended practice, the report said.

The crew doubled up all fore and aft couplings between the string of four barges. The Todd Brown faced up to the aft end of the string, while the Ot Adkins was positioned along the starboard side of the lead barge. As the Todd Brown’s pilot moved the string into the river, its profile was exposed to an 8 mph. current that pushed the Todd Brown backwards, despite its engines being on full ahead. The Todd Brown’s pilot asked the Ot Adkins’ crew to attach a line from their vessel to the shoreline to swing the barge string back toward the shoreline and out of the current.

But as the current began to “overwhelm” both boats, the report said, the pilot told his own crew to disconnect the Todd Brown from the string so that he could maneuver to the port side of the drifting string. He subsequently became trapped behind the barge string and allided with the moored lead barges of the No. 9 fleet, 250 feet downriver, pinning the boat to the moored barges, where the current forced its head down into the water. The Todd Brown sank at 3:30 p.m. and came to rest in about 35 feet of water. All six crewmembers climbed aboard an adjacent barge without reported injury.

The twin-screw Todd Brown was built in 1977 in St. Louis Ship. Originally named the John Welch, it was operated by Federal Barge Lines until sold in 1984 to Midland Enterprises Inc. It was sold to Ingram Barge Company and renamed the Todd Brown in 2005. It was operated by Great Rivers Marine Service.

The full report is available on the NTSB’s website,