New ferry memorial under construction

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 2, 2009



DESTREHAN – A memorial honoring the 77 people who perished in the George Prince Ferry crash, once described as “the worst ferry accident in American History,” will be unveiled in Destrehan this month just a few feet from where the ill-fated vessel left the dock for the last time.

The granite and brick monument, which is in the final stages of construction, will also pay tribute to the 18 survivors of the crash. The dedication ceremony, scheduled for Oct. 17 at 11 a.m. at the East Bank Bridge Park, will occur just three days before the 33rd anniversary of the 1976 accident.

“To those living in St. Charles Parish in the ‘70s, the George Prince Ferry disaster is truly one of those defining moments in history,” said St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre. “We all remember where we were when we learned about the accident, just like we remember the JFK assassination or the moon landing. It was a time for both banks of the river to come together to support one another and mourn the loss of so many.”

According to L’Observateur archives, on the morning of Oct. 20, 1976, the George Prince pulled away from the Destrehan dock around 6:15 a.m. carrying 95 passengers and several automobiles on its way across the Mississippi River to Luling. As the ferry turned out into more open waters, the vessel crossed the path of the Frosta, a Norwegian tanker traveling on the river. The two boats collided, and the collision flipped and sank the ferry.

The ferry was pulled from the water the next day, but the search for victims stretched on for weeks. A Coast Guard investigation into the accident revealed that negligence on the part of the ferry’s pilot, Egidio “Gene” Auletta, was the primary cause of the accident.

St. Charles Parish Spokesperson Renee Allemand-Simpson said the memorial, which will stand at about 8 feet tall, was built with the help of donations from local contractors. She explained that a special committee made up of victim’s family members, concerned community members and elected officials led by District 5 Councilman Larry Cochran helped make the monument a reality through a series of meetings beginning in early 2009. District 4 Councilman Paul Hogan was commissioned to design the monument.

The monument, which will be situated in the shadows of the Hale Boggs Bridge, is the first in St. Charles Parish dedicated to the ferry disaster. A second memorial to the victims, erected in 1978, is situated on the grounds of the St. John Parish Courthouse in Edgard. Past editions of L’Observateur state St. Charles officials had struggled over a suitable location for the monument before one was finally erected in Edgard.