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Chinese captain says he overruled pilot on dropping anchor

December 19, 1996

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A freighter’s blaring emergency horn drowned out the first radioed orders to drop anchor moments before the ship slammed into a crowded riverfront mall, the vessel’s Chinese master testified.

Since the crew couldn’t hear his orders, Deng Jing Quan left his post on the bridge and used body movements to try to get the attention of the man at the anchor, but he was unsuccessful, Deng said.

When they finally established communication, he said, dropping anchor would have swung the freighter into a cruise ship docked nearby. So, he said, he held the anchor, but as the ship bore down on a casino boat, he dropped it to stop the forward motion.

In holding the anchor, Deng overruled the ship’s pilot, who had also ordered it dropped immediately in the middle of the Mississippi River after the ship lost power, Deng testified Wednesday on the second day of a Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board hearing. The hearing resumes today.

About three minutes after the pilot began blowing the warning horn, the 763-foot Bright Field, loaded with 56,000 tons of corn, crashed into the Riverwalk mall crowded with Christmas shoppers, injuring 116 people.

If the anchor had been dropped right away it might have prevented Saturday’s accident.

Ted Davisson, the river pilot who had boarded the ship three hours earlier to guide it down the treacherous Mississippi, testified Tuesday that the master and crew showed no signs of responding to his commands as he tried to keep the freighter under control.

Pilots are required to be aboard to navigate on the Mississippi, but the ship’s master remains in command.

Deng, disputing Davisson’s account of the harrowing three minutes between power loss and the crash, said he responded to Davisson and followed his orders _ with the exception of the timing of the anchor.

Among other things, the inquiry is looking into whether a language barrier was a factor.

Deng testified through an interpreter, but did not have an interpreter on the ship. During the hearing, he showed he understood some English, occasionally answering before the questions were translated. Most of his answers were in Chinese.

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