Luling/Destrehan Ferry Disaster
The Oct. 20, 1976, collision on the Mississippi River of the George Prince ferry and the Norwegian tanker Frosta was ranked as the top story of the millennium in the local press. It has been characterized as one of the worst maritime disasters in history.
The 120-foot George Prince and the 665-foot Frosta collided as the ferry made its early morning journey from Destrehan to Luling mainly carrying industry workers as it had done hundreds of times before.
Frantic horn blasts and radio calls from the tanker failed to alert the ferry’s pilot to the impending danger. The Frosta ran over the smaller boat and flipped it over sending vehicles and ninety-five passengers into the cold, muddy waters of the river. 77 people perished; nineteen were St. Charles Parish residents and twelve were from St. John. The eighteen survivors fought swirling water, frigid temperatures, and mass confusion as they struggled to escape.
As the news of the collision spread, families and loved ones began to gather on the levee to await news. Rescuers worked valiantly around the clock looking for victims and survivors. Food was brought in for the workers at the temporary headquarters set up on the batture. As bodies were recovered they were transported to the Knights of Columbus Home in Norco and the local fire stat ion. The effort continued until every passenger had been accounted for. An inquiry concluded that the ferry pilot was negligent and his lack of action was the primary cause of the disaster. This judgment could not erase the profound pain and suffering endured by the families and community. A monument to commemorate the tragedy was erected at the East Bank Bridge Park in 2009.
The Luling/Destrehan Ferry disaster in 1976 is one of the worst maritime accidents in history. (Photos courtesy of the St. Charles Herald, Patrick Yoes, and Chip Zeringue)
This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.