New deck hand who was about to quit remains missing

A newly hired 18-year-old deck hand who was quitting his job at the end of the watch was reported missing from a towing vessel in the Mississippi River.

The teen was employed aboard Jeffrey G in Louisiana when he disappeared on the night of March 9. Over a month later, there was still no sign of him, the U.S. Coast Guard and police agencies said.

The 156-foot Jeffrey G was moving barges around near LaPlace, La., when the deck hand disappeared during the evening hours. The vessels operated as close as 20 or 30 feet from shore that night, said Petty Officer Brent Massey, a Coast Guard search and rescue coordinator.

The owner of Jeffrey G is Alter Barge Line of Bettendorf, Iowa, said Alter’s president, Larry Daily. The vessel’s operator was Lawson & Lawson Towing Co. of Wynne, Ark. The missing deck hand was from nearby Aubrey, Ark., the Coast Guard said.

“He wasn’t enjoying it, and wasn’t getting along, and the company had arranged for transportation for him to get back to Arkansas,” Massey said. “It just wasn’t for him. He wanted to get back to his girlfriend, and apparently he wasn’t doing a good job on the boat.”

The deck hand was last seen going to bed at about 1800, the Jeffrey G crew reported. Lawson & Lawson had arranged for a relief crewmember to take his place at 2400. The plan was to dock Jeffrey G at LaPlace to make the switch. When someone went to wake the teen up at about 2300, he wasn’t in his bunk. Nor was he anywhere else on the boat. Investigators said the deck hand had a phone conversation with his girlfriend at about 2000 and spoke to a friend or relative by phone at around 2100. At 2200, he failed to answer a call from his grandmother.

No witnesses reported hearing him say he intended to get off the boat earlier than midnight. Even if the towing vessel and barges were only 20 feet from shore, fleeing via the river would have been extremely dangerous. The Coast Guard didn’t know if Jeffrey G was minus a float coat.

“There was the potential that he could have jumped off and tried to make a swim for it” Massey said. “We have very, very poor outcomes when somebody goes missing in the water.”

For two days, the Coast Guard searched the river from mile markers 145 to 110 using 41-foot small boats and rescue helicopters and found nothing. Massey said the Port of South Louisiana sent out its rescue boat Accardo. St. John the Baptist Parish and St. Charles Parish sheriff’s departments also investigated along with authorities in Arkansas. The 18-year-old was still reported missing in April.

Lawson & Lawson Towing President Robert Vance Lawson, through his secretary, refused to comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff