Operator dies when crane tumbles off construction barge

A 10-ton crane fell off a barge while dismantling a dock in a Virginia lake, killing the operator.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating what caused the Oct. 5, 2009, accident at Smith Mountain Lake near Wirtz, Va. Contractors from Plyler Homes and Docks were pulling wooden pilings out of the lakebed when the crane toppled over and plunged into the deep lake, investigators said.

Crane operator Roger Dale “Peanut” Goad, 55, of Henry, Va., was killed, the Coast Guard said. Divers found Goad lying on the lake bottom, next to the crane, 100 feet from shore.

The 19,000- to 20,000-pound crane with a 60-foot boom was chained to a barge that was roughly 15 by 50 feet. A utility boat transports the barge to jobs around the 20,600-acre lake. The same vessel helps to hold the barge in place while the crane is working. On Oct. 5, the equipment was being used to dismantle an old dock for a private resident, said Capt. Patrick Meeks of the Franklin County Department of Public Safety.

“Somehow the crane came loose from the barge,” Meeks said. “They were pulling a pylon out. I don’t know if the pylon snapped or if the release of it was too quick, but the crane tipped backwards and tipped off the back of the barge into 60 feet of water.”

Meeks said the three-man crew included Goad’s son, who witnessed the fatal noontime accident. They weren’t wearing life vests. Divers recovered the body of the crane operator about two hours later. He was not trapped inside the crane.

The crane “landed on the right side with the cab door open,” Meeks said. “The individual was found outside the crane lying flat on the bottom, five to eight feet behind the crane. I don’t know if he tried to get out on his own or if he floated out.”

OSHA is investigating whether the crane was properly secured to the barge and why the crew were not wearing life vests. The results of that probe were not yet available in early December.

“It was actually a crane on tracks, and they roll these things on their barges, and they secure them to the barge with chains,” Meeks said.

Officials with Moneta, Va.-based Plyler Homes and Docks didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Coast Guard officials in Portsmouth, Va., declined to release any information about the size and design of the boat that accompanied the barge.

The crane was still in the lake in November. The Coast Guard said the company was working on a salvage plan. The equipment contains diesel fuel and hydraulic fluid.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff