NTSB: High speed played role in Coast Guard crash

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The National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday determined that the probable cause of a 2009 collision in San Diego Bay between a Coast Guard patrol boat and a recreational powerboat was the excessive speed of the Coast Guard boat in nighttime conditions in an area of high vessel density.

The board also attributed the accident to ineffective Coast Guard oversight of its small boat operations nationally and at Coast Guard Station San Diego.

At about 5:44 p.m. (PST) on Dec. 20, 2009 in San Diego Harbor, a 33-foot-long Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement Coast Guard vessel with five crewmembers aboard collided with a 24-foot Sea Ray carrying 13 people.

The collision occurred during the Parade of Lights, an annual holiday boating event.

The Coast Guard boat, which was responding to a reported grounding, struck the Sea Ray from behind. An 8-year-old boy was killed and four other people were seriously injured. No one in the Coast Guard boat was hurt.

"The Coast Guard is an organization that traditionally fills the role of rescuer,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement. "It is especially sad that a family night of celebration in the bay ended in tragedy because of a coxswain's poor judgment and the Coast Guard's ineffective oversight of vessel operations."

The investigation showed that at least one of the crewmembers saw the Sea Ray as they approached it from behind. Three of the five crewmembers on the Coast Guard boat, including the operator, refused to be interviewed by NTSB investigators.

The NTSB recommended that the Coast Guard increase vigilance in checking the speed of its boats, establish policies that prohibit excessive speed and develop a monitoring system to detect deviations from standard operating guidance and procedures.

The board also recommended that the Coast Guard implement procedures to ensure that crewmembers can compensate for obstructions potentially affecting forward visibility on their SPC-LE vessels.

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