Bridge inspector drowns after barge knocks him into river

A bridge inspector drowned in the Calumet-Sag Channel after he was knocked out of a cherry picker by a barge while inspecting the Division Street Bridge in Blue Island, Ill.

The cherry picker was struck at about 0900 on April 10 by the lead barge of a three-barge tow pushed by Julie White, a 1,900-hp towboat owned by Garvey Marine Inc. of Lemont, Ill.

Two bridge inspectors working for Collins Engineers Inc. of Chicago were in the cherry picker examining the bridge. The cherry picker was connected with a boom to a vehicle parked in the center of the bridge, according to Lt. Dan Higman, senior investigating officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office Chicago.

The two men were using the boom, specifically designed for bridge inspections, to check the underside of the bridge deck, according to an official from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is also investigating the death.

The barges were empty and riding high in the water, according to Higman. As Julia White approached the bridge, the pilot only saw what looked to be a yellow truck parked on the bridge, but there was no sign of ongoing work. When the lead barge was about 50 to 60 yards away, a basket appeared in view on the opposite side of the bridge, according to Higman’s report.

The lead barge struck the cherry picker, throwing both bridge inspectors into the 18-foot-deep channel. One inspector swam to shore after the incident. The body of the other inspector, Evan Buckhouse, was found by divers later that day about 20 feet from the bridge.

Collins Engineers failed to notify the Coast Guard that they were performing the inspection work, according to Higman. “There is some question of whether they were legally obligated to do so,” he said. According to regulations, the Coast Guard must be notified if bridge maintenance work is done. However, it is unclear whether an inspection is considered maintenance, Higman said.

The pilot of the towboat passed drug and alcohol tests, according to Higman. The incident is also being investigated by OSHA.

By Professional Mariner Staff