Missouri boat accident draws comparisons to the Tennessee River’s SCItanic tragedy

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- A Missouri boat accident has several similarities with a boat disaster that happened here in the Tennessee Valley as a result of severe weather. Back in 1984, the SCItanic capsized on the Tennessee River killing 11 people. The National Weather Service later determined a microburst, which is an intense storm downdraft was the cause of what happened.

Only four passengers and three crew members survived the accident. As soon as the call came on the radio emergency crews rushed to the scene.

Don Webster has worked for emergency services in Huntsville and Madison County since the 1970's.

"It was a triple-decker and it was totally upside down," Webster said.

Footage from July 1984 shows the SCItanic capsized in the Tennessee River near Hobbs Island. The captain tried to steer it back to Ditto Landing to avoid a microburst.

"It turned disastrous real quick," he said.

It's a day Webster says he will never forget. "You remember what I call the sentinel events that have occurred in our community in my 45 years. It's always there with you."

He says when they got the call no one has any idea how disastrous the situation really was.

"When you hear 'boat capsizing,' you think a runabout, a ski boat, a bass boat, something like that. You never think of the SCItanic," he said.

Only 7 out of 18 people survived. The survivors ran to the deck of the ship. The people who perished were trapped inside the ship.

Webster is watching the news as more details about what happened in Missouri continue to be revealed. "I thought, 'they should have not be out there,'" he said.

It's another tragedy where a storm caught people off, guard.

"The weather can change so rapidly," he said.

Webster says boaters need to pick their battles. The SCItanic is an ominous reminder that the fight against mother nature is one people tend to not win.

Captain of SCItanic looks back

Frank May thinks about that July day in 1984 all the time. He can't forget about it. "Never will. You'll live with the responsibility of it day-to-day. You'll second guess yourself as to anything else you could have done. Today is just like it was 34 years ago. I can not think of one thing I could have done different."

"It was a typical thunderstorm to begin with. Then once we noticed it getting as bad as it did we rounded the head of Hobbs Island and headed back to Ditto," May said.

A microburst hit the boat. It capsized and 11 people died. May was the captain. "After the NTSB and the Coast Guard hearing, they both told me you've done all you can do, surprised you got out."

That day never leaves him. In hearing about a similar situation in Missouri, May said he knows what the families are going through. "I know what the operator's going through too," May said, "Number one, you'll never get over it. You might as well accept the fact now that it happened."

"There are some things you can prepare for and then there are some things you can't."

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