Towboat crewman found dead after falling into Mississippi River

3 Charlie

A 20-year-old crewman drowned after falling from a towboat in the Mississippi River. Authorities said he was not wearing a life jacket.

Tennessee resident Jacob Dewayne Climer fell from Charlie G into the upper Mississippi River north of Canton, Mo., on Oct. 8. His body was found about two weeks later on the Illinois side near La Grange.

Climer fell sometime after the vessel passed through Lock and Dam 19 at 2140 hours. A search began at about 2300 at mile 356, eight miles south of Keokuk, Iowa, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Tim Marriott in St. Louis said. 

“The Charlie G tied off the two barges they were pushing, launched their work skiff and began searching downstream,” he said. Charlie G is owned by Marquette Transportation.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) led the search. The Coast Guard, Illinois State Police, Quincy Area Volunteer Emergency Corps in Illinois, and Illinois nonprofit Living Lands and Waters all launched boats, looking as far south as Lock 20, Marriott said. 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, local authorities and towboats Sir Bree, Penny Eckstein, David L. Griggs and Prairie Dawn assisted. Two vessels equipped with side-scan sonar were used. A Coast Guard boat searching the day after the incident had engine and chartplotting problems and returned to shore. 

“MSHP and the volunteer agencies continued to search for several days after the incident,” Marriott said.

MSHP Sgt. Brent Bernhardt said that agency’s aircraft and marine divisions deployed a helicopter and boats to look upriver and downriver. The helicopter found Climer’s body on the Illinois side on Oct. 20 at mile 337 near La Grange, below Lock and Dam 20. The body was taken to the Adams County Coroner’s office in Bloomington, Ill., where an autopsy confirmed that Climer had drowned. Foul play wasn’t suspected. 

Light rain and haze hampered the search initially. “The MSHP helicopter couldn’t launch until the morning after the incident because of inclement weather,” Marriott said. Climer wasn’t wearing a life jacket, adding to difficulties in spotting him.

At any time, “strong undercurrents in the river and eddies make plotting drift patterns extremely unpredictable,” Marriott said. Side-scan sonar was used in the search, but debris in the water and the contours of the river bottom make it tough to identify floating objects, he said. Anything caught in submerged tree branches is almost impossible to distinguish from surrounding debris.

A “Tribute to Life” event was held in Luray, Tenn. Climer was engaged to be married and had a daughter. “Jacob will be remembered for his constant smile and his ability to make you laugh,” a newspaper obituary said. “He found humor in almost everything.”

By Professional Mariner Staff