Iraqi divers retrieve bodies after boat accident

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 1, 2013 at 10:48 am •  Published: March 1, 2013

BAGHDAD (AP) — Divers worked through the night and into Friday in murky waters to recover bodies from a partially sunken floating restaurant in Baghdad after an accident killed nine people attending a party for the local Caterpillar distributor.

The body of one man dressed in a black jacket was pulled to the surface around midday, drawing plaintive cries of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," from waiting family members on the banks of the Tigris River.

Plates of half-eaten food remained on restaurant tables onshore, a testament to the previous evening's panic.

Authorities said the tragedy was an accident and that there were no signs a militant attack was to blame. Instead, investigators believe the boat may have been overloaded on Thursday evening, ahead of the start of the Muslim weekend, and became unstable as guests massed in one area for a group photo.

Ameer Ahmed was on board the boat when it started to go down and managed to swim to safety. He said the whole accident happened in a matter of minutes, and that there was a stampede as crowds tried to escape through the narrow door.

"The windows on the right side smashed inwards, flooding us with water," he said. "The scene reminded me of the movie 'Titanic.' I was lucky because I know how to swim."

Those on board the boat were attending an employee appreciation event for the local distributor of the bulldozer and heavy machinery manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., said a manager for the dealer who attended the event.

Police and hospital officials said nine people died in the accident. Like the manager for the Caterpillar distributor, the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

No Caterpillar employees were involved in the accident, spokeswoman Rachel Potts said. The company is working with the dealer to monitor the situation and offer assistance as needed, she added.

The one-story boat — a sort of enclosed floating platform — was moored to the shore of the Tigris River as part of the popular Lebanese Club restaurant complex.

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