Bulker deck hand dies after fall from Indiana steel mill dock

A deck hand preparing to return home for the holidays died after falling into Lake Michigan while her ship was docked at a northwest Indiana steel mill.

Sara Murawski, 30, of Kinde, Mich., fell from the J dock at ArcelorMittal in Burns Harbor, Ind., and landed in the frigid water roughly 15 feet below. She was in the water for more than 45 minutes when divers rescued her.

“It appears she reached to get something over the dock wall and slipped and lost her footing and fell into the water,” Burns Harbor Fire Chief Bill Arney told Professional Mariner. “We do know she was leaving the boat to go home for the holidays as well.”

Arney said Murawski might have hit her head against the ship, the self-unloading bulk carrier Wilfred Sykes, as she fell. The Porter County Coroner’s Office has not released the cause of death, although the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said it appears to have been an accidental drowning.

The Indiana DNR and ArcelorMittal are conducting separate investigations of the incident, which occurred at about 1545 on Dec. 9. The pier is located alongside the ArcelorMittal steel mill at the Port of Burns Harbor. An ArcelorMittal spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Murawski had finished a weeks-long hitch aboard the 678-foot bulk carrier when she departed the ship at Burns Harbor. Authorities said she was retrieving her belongings from the vessel when she fell from the dock. She was not wearing a personal flotation device, said Tyler Brock, spokesman for the Indiana DNR.

“We are not sure if she slipped or tripped or was leaning over the edge,” he said.

The berth is composed of concrete and metal plates and has no railing. Its surface was wet from rain earlier in the day, Brock said, and was covered in a fine powder that originated from the mill or from the process of loading vessels at the pier.

“There is an iron substance that coats the area (around the plant), and when it gets wet it can be a little slippery,” Brock said. “The ground is covered in that stuff throughout the mill.”

People at the terminal and on board the ship witnessed Murawski’s fall. At least one person tried to rescue her but was unable to reach her before she went underwater. Divers located her body in about 32 feet of water, Arney said, adding that she was unresponsive when brought to the surface.

“Once we pulled her from the water, we immediately started to do CPR and life safety measures to try and revive her, and those continued all the way to the hospital and at the hospital for an extended period of time,” the fire chief said.

Murawski’s body temperature had fallen below 80 degrees when she arrived at Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso, Ind. She was pronounced dead later on Dec. 9.

The Indiana DNR has interviewed witnesses and others at the scene, Brock said. The investigation is centered on how she entered the water. The fall is not considered suspicious.

The U.S.-flagged Wilfred Sykes was built in 1950. It is operated by Central Marine Logistics of Griffith, Ind., and owned by Indiana Harbor Steamship Co., also based in Griffith. Messages seeking comment on the incident were not returned. 

By Professional Mariner Staff