Onlooker: "It was kind of cool" to watch the tugboat stop the barge
A tugboat narrowly stopped a runaway barge from hitting the Interstate 75 bridge over the Tennessee River in Loudon County Friday night.
Brian Kelch, a Loudon county resident, watched the entire incident from his dock.
Kelch said he lived on Misty View Drive since 1993, but he's never seen anything like this happen. "This isn't something you see everyday. We've never seen that--a barge floating down river by itself."
According to Corporal Matt Fagiana, Public Information Officer for the Loudon County Sheriff's Office, the unmanned, heavily loaded barge broke loose from the Fort Loudon Terminal on Friday night, threatening the bridge and prompting Loudon County Sheriff's Office deputies and Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to close the interstate in both directions. It was reopened around 10:00 Friday night.
"It was a little scary, you were wondering if it was going to do any damage--mess up the dock or hit the bridge."
Investigators expressed concern that the rogue barge could potentially make impact with the Tennessee River bridge, which is why the interstate was shut down in both directions.
Officials told WVLT News that the heavily loaded barge was carrying 200,000 pounds of an unknown material.
Kelch shared video of the barge drifting. He noted the river was moving quickly, taking the barge on a fast track towards the bridge.
Poor weather conditions created low visibility for officials trying to locate the runaway barge, but around 9:24 p.m. Loudon County officials spotted it upriver and about 1.5 miles from the bridge, floating towards it sideways.
Around 9:40 p.m. officials said a tugboat had made contact with the barge and successfully slowed it's momentum, finally stopping it just about 600 yards away from the Tennessee River bridge and I-75.
"When the tugboat got here, it was kind of cool to watch how they stopped it and everything."
WVLT News viewer Robert Aft shared video of the tugboat intercepting and stopping the barge. Officials called it a narrow miss and credited dispatchers working quickly to secure help from Tate & Lyle which sent the tugboat to stop the barge. Originally, officials said Kimberly Clark Corp. was responsible for sending in the tugboat but the company confirmed Monday that was not accurate.
"Really thankful it didn't do any damage," Kelch said.