Crew boat captain falls into water, loses lower legs when hit by propeller

The captain of a small crew boat fell overboard while mooring alongside a dredge barge near Port Canaveral, Fla., and was seriously hurt when his legs hit the propeller.

The victim lost one leg below the knee and his second was amputated below the knee at a hospital, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Stephen Lehmann. Authorities did not identify the man, who was wearing a life jacket when he fell from the vessel at about 2147 on Nov. 11, 2015. 

“The life jacket saved his life,” said Lehmann, who is based in Jacksonville. “It could have been so much worse if he had not been wearing a life jacket.”

The pilot was operating the crew boat EM 115, which carries workers between the shore and dredge equipment working in the channel. EM 115 was preparing to moor up alongside Paula Lee, a 250-foot derrick barge, when the pilot slipped and fell into the water at the stern. He was the only person aboard EM 115 at the time of the accident.

“What is usually a two-man operation, he decided he was going to do it himself,” Lehmann said. “He tried to moor up at the barge and ended up falling in.”

The man clung to a rope once he hit the water and workers who witnessed the incident quickly pulled him from the water, according to the Coast Guard. First responders met the victim at Cruise Ship Terminal 2 at the port facilities. 

“He was treated at the scene by Brevard County Fire Rescue paramedics before being airlifted to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne,” said Don Walker, a spokesman for Brevard County government. 

The Coast Guard initially investigated the incident, but only to determine whether foul play was involved. 

“We quickly determined it was an accident … that did not require any further investigation,” Lehmann said. “It was at night, it was dark, the deck was slippery and that was pretty much the conclusion.”

Port Canaveral is located on the Atlantic Coast in central Florida, roughly 50 miles east of Orlando. It is one of the busiest cruise ship facilities in the United States, with nearly 4 million passengers per year, according to the Canaveral Port Authority website. 

The dredging project at Port Canaveral will widen and deepen the main channel to allow transit for larger ships. The Dutra Group of San Rafael, Calif., is performing the dredging work and operates Paula Lee, according to its website. 

The Coast Guard and local authorities could not confirm if the victim worked for Dutra Group or a local subcontractor. Dutra Group did not respond to a request for comment about the incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff