Newly hired crewmember dies after falling between two barges

A newly hired deck hand was killed when he fell between two hopper barges at a fleeting area in the Ohio River near New Cumberland, W.Va.

The body of Michael Jason Harvey, 26, was found two weeks after the April 6 accident near the W.H. Sammis power plant in Stratton, Ohio.

Harvey was an employee of Campbell Transportation Co. of Charleroi, Pa. The U.S. Coast Guard said he was on an empty coal barge near a lock as part of a crew with the Campbell towing vessel Oliver C. Shearer when the accident occurred at about 1430.

"There were a number of deck hands on the barges trying to build the tow at the fleeting area so they could move the barges downriver," said Lt. Matthew Meskun, the Coast Guard's investigator. "In the process of moving the barges around, there was a deck hand who fell overboard."

James McGaffick, an officer with the Sheriff's Office in Hancock County, W.Va., said one of the barges in the row "was going sideways and was sticking out." As other deck hands brought that barge back into the string, they prepared for a jolt as the vessel came into contact with an adjacent one.

"Someone called out that there was going to be a bump so that everyone could hunker down and brace themselves," McGaffick said. "After the bump, there was a space that opened up between the two barges, and that's when he fell in. Right after that, the barges came together again."

Harvey never resurfaced that day, McGaffick said. Witnesses reported that Harvey was wearing a life vest. The vest apparently popped off, and it was found floating several miles downsteam.

The body of Harvey, who was from Neville Island, Pa., was spotted April 20 by crew of the W.H. Sammis towboat Edison Queen. He had a possible head injury. Autopsy results weren't yet complete in July, the West Virginia State Medical Examiner's Office said.

Meskun said Harvey had a few years' experience working on passenger vessels in the Pittsburgh area, "but he was a new employee for that company" working on barges. Meskun said weather conditions were good on April 6.

Campbell Transportation officials declined to comment on details of the accident. In a statement, President Charles Minton said the company was conducting an internal investigation and was cooperating with the Coast Guard probe.

"We are committed to dealing with its aftermath in an honest, sincere and forthright manner that is consistent with our principles as individuals and our standards as a company," Minton's statement said.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff