PHILADELPHIA - A Philadelphia police officer who was among the first at the scene of the "Ride the Ducks" crash and sinking, talked exclusively Thursday with Fox 29's Dave Schratwieser.
Detective Tim Brooks – an 18-year-veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department who is assigned to the bomb squad and ATF – was just blocks away from Penn's Landing on Wednesday when calls came in of a tour boat sinking in the Delaware.
Two of the duck boat riders, both of them from Hungary, remained missing Thursday afternoon. The National Transportation safety Board has since taken control of the investigation.
After running to the scene with his partner and an ATF agent, Brooks said they spotted survivorsfrom a floating dock.
"In the water, I guess about 20 to 30 yards from where we were, there was a mother and a couple kids that were clinging to a pylon in the water," Brooks said. "One of the kids didn't have a life jacket on. They were screaming and everything."
The ATF agent grabbed a life preserver with a rope attached to it, Brooks said: "I grabbed that, took my gun and stuff off, handed that to my partner. They held onto the rope, I grabbed onto the life ring, dove in, swam over to them, made sure the little girl got secured. And a few minutes later we're in the water, the fire department came, started giving us some direction while we were in the water. A Coast Guard boat pulled up, they threw a line – swam over and grabbed the line, swam it back, grabbed the little girl, 'cause she was the most panicked – grabbed her, swam her over to the Coast Guard boat, handed her to the Coast Guard. They gave me a life vest."
He then proceeded to swim back to the rest of the family, where several members of a Navy unit that happened to be on the shore had arrived.
"The guys from the Navy pulled up in an inflatable. They were able to get the other three into that boat. I was pushing from the water; they were pulling from inside the boat. And then I swam back to the Coast Guard boat, and they
Was the detective thinking about Tim Brooks at all?
"No. I did what every cop there would have done. When you pulled up – especially when… you see a kid in the water like who is helpless and crying – you go in. I just was in the right place at the right time, that's it. Any cop from here to California would have done the exact same thing. It was just time – I was in the right place."
Schratwieser mentioned the "Miracle on the Hudson," recalling the incident when a plane pilot ditched in the Hudson River and all passengers survived, and asked what Brooks would call this incident.
Brooks answered, "Ahh, it's a miracle on the Delaware how nobody – being a part of the investigation later on, seeing some of the things I saw – how more people weren't killed, it was amazing, absolutely amazing."
The detective said, "everybody was there, everybody worked together, from the uniformed officers, detectives, crime scene guys, ATF agents – you name the agency, they were there, everybody doing the same thing. There was no egos, there was no 'I'm In charge, do this.' There was a clear-cut chain of command, but there was no, the Coast Guard wasn't saying, 'We're taking over.' Nobody was doing that. There was nothing like that."
Brooks said response times seemed to be good. When he got out there, uniformed officers were already at the other side of the pier.
He said afterward, "It's our city. You don't want to see that happen here, you know? And when you do … you want it to shine. You want it to be the best that it can possibly be."
In his soaking wet clothes, the detective also stayed on scene and helped organize an investigation, trying to make sure all of the passengers were being accounted for. He, his partner and two ATF agents started fulfilling the role Brooks said would be expected of them "at any scene" until relieved.
"We started separating witnesses from victims and trying to find out who's who, trying to find out what happened to give our chain of command some direction on where they needed to go," Brooks said.
Later, Brooks said his wife reacted by saying she thought he was kidding about having gone in the water. A few friends also kidded with him.
"A couple of my buddies were joking, 'What were you doing?' Everybody thought I was riding the duck – 'must be nice to be a detective, you've got time to ride the duck in the middle of the afternoon.' It's surreal now, but I was doing the same thing anybody else would have done," Brooks said.