NTSB: Complacency Led to Bridge Strike in Mississippi River


Vessel Susan K after the contact

Susan K pictured after the contact. (Source: NTSB)​

​​​WASHINGTON (April 2, 2024) — A towing vessel captain’s complacency led to barges striking the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge last year in the Mississippi River, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.​​

The towing vessel Susan K was transiting with 25 barges downbound on the Mississippi River toward the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge on April 23, 2023. The captain intended to maneuver the tow through the western channel under the bridge, but was inattentive during the approach. The tow was out of position for the intended route and the captain’s awareness of the situation came too late to avoid striking a bridge pier.

There was no evidence that the captain was fatigued, impaired or distracted. The captain had decades of experience captaining towing vessels and maneuvering tows, and he had steered tows through the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge hundreds of times. Following the contact, the captain stated that he had gotten complacent after transiting the area so often.

“Repetition and monotony can cause even the most experienced and skilled mariner to become complacent and lose situational awareness,” the report said. “Developing strategies that help maintain focus is a good practice. These strategies may include continuous scanning of instruments and surroundings outside the wheelhouse, strict adherence to procedures, eliminating distractions, changing position or moving (standing up or walking around), and getting enough sleep and exercise.”

As a result of the contact, one barge sank and two other barges were damaged. No pollution or injuries were reported. Damage to the barges and cargo was estimated at $2 million.​

Marine Investigation Report 24-06​ is available online.  

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).