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Landmark steamboat partially sunken along Louisville wharf

August 25, 1997

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ In its 83 years, the Belle of Louisville went from freighter to excursion boat to beloved landmark. Now, the city’s sweetheart is in trouble.

``To Louisvillians, it’s a lot like the Titanic sinking,″ said Dennis Stengel, one of hundreds who came to the Ohio River wharf Sunday to see the partially sunken Belle, its tall stacks leaning.

A major rescue mission continued today to help the sinking steamboat, including towboats, divers, pumps, a huge crane and a nationally known salvage expert. The boat, which was unoccupied, remained stabilized this morning with one side of its stern and its bright red paddlewheel resting on river mud under 10 feet of water.

What caused the Belle to start sinking early Sunday morning might not be known for several days, and officials didn’t know how long it would take to lift the boat from the river bottom or how much it would cost. But they were optimistic.

``She’s sick right now, but she’s getting treatment,″ said Belle of Louisville Executive Director Ken Meredith. ``She’ll be in recovery soon, and then she’ll be back on her feet.″

A night watchman discovered the problem on the steamboat Sunday morning, just hours after a late Saturday night cruise. Something abrupt must have happened, said crew member Marty Mitchell, ``much like a seam separating, for a lot of water to go in quickly and for it to go down very quickly.″

Locals came with video cameras and said they couldn’t believe something serious could happen to the Belle, which was built in 1914 and began its career as a freighter.

Originally known as the Idlewild, then the Avalon, the sternwheeler has been owned by the county since 1962. It is now run as an excursion boat that can accommodate up to 800 people.

``It’s my brother’s birthday and every year we go to brunch and go on the Belle,″ said Karen Maghoul, who was with family members at the wharf Sunday. ``It looks so pathetic.″

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