COVINGTON, Ky. -- Firefighters rigged a makeshift gangplank of ladders to safely rescue 83 people, including former Cincinnati Bengals star Cris Collinsworth, from a floating restaurant that broke free from its dockside mooring on the rain-swollen Ohio River, authorities said Saturday.
Covington Fire Department Capt. Chris Kiely said Jeff Ruby's Waterfront restaurant drifted about 85 to 100 yards downriver to a towering bridge nearby but a rear mooring line held it firmly as nervous dinner patrons awaited rescue.
"Luckily the people on the boat called," he said.
Kiely said some of those aboard for a night of dining on the popular floating restaurant called emergency authorities for help when the restaurant shifted and broke away after 10 p.m. Friday. He said the river was in a mild flood stage after recent winter storms.
"The water is right at flood stage" or just above, Kiely told The Associated Press by telephone of higher river levels after recent winter storms.
He added that emergency crews strapped life jackets on each dinner patron as a precaution and the others aboard before each clambered to shore across the precariously perched ladders.
"There were three gangplanks on the restaurant already and when it broke loose it destroyed sections ... the last 20 feet of the gangplanks were destroyed as the boat moved downriver" and slid up against a vehicle bridge spanning the river, he added.
The restaurant is one of several along the Ohio River waterfront and is located on the Kentucky side of the river opposite Cincinnati. He said the restaurant barge was against the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and that a rear line held it firm.
"As the barge started to float downriver, the rear line came around the front of the pier and it put tension on it and held it," Kiely said. "The worst thing that could have happened is the barge could have swung out in the current, but luckily the line held."
Kiely, who was returning from the scene, said he saw Collinsworth -- the former Bengals star wide receiver and NBC pro football commentator -- among those rescued. He said all were taken calmly off the floating restaurant and three tugboats have since gone to assist.
Calls by The Associated Press to phone numbers listed on the restaurant were not immediately returned early Saturday.
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