Towboat crewman killed attempting to save family on fishing boat


A crewman on a Mississippi River towboat lost his life while trying to rescue a family of five in a disabled recreational boat near St. Louis.

Kyle R. Hardman, 55, was killed in the rescue attempt June 12, about one and half miles south of St. Louis on the Missouri side of the river. He was a crewman on Richard A. Baker, which was taking on a load of coal when the captain saw a small fishing boat with three adult males and two toddlers swept by the swift current against the bow of a moored rake barge.

The captain dispatched two men, Hardman and Jarvise Shelton in the vessel’s Zodiac, to reach the struggling boat, according to David E. Hammond Jr., president of Inland Marine Service, operator of Richard A. Baker. As the rescue boat neared, Hardman and Shelton tried to throw a line to tow the disabled boat.

Hammond said that rather than grab the rope, the three men — a pair of brothers and a friend — tried to hand over the children, a 4-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl. A language barrier prevented the rescuers from communicating with the people on the disabled boat, who where Asian and did not speak English well.

As Hardman reached for one of the children, the Zodiac capsized in the strong current and the fishing boat went under as well. Both Hardman and Shelton, who were wearing life jackets, fell into the water. Shelton was able to grab a rope and was pulled to safety. The currents swept Hardman more than 100 feet under the barge.

Shelton was pulled from the water, suffering minor injuries. Rescuers tried to revive Hardman after his body was recovered, but he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Hardman’s efforts in the rescue are an example of the riverman’s code, said Lt. j.g. Colin Fogarty, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in St. Louis.

“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Hardman passed in this incident, but he was doing what any good riverman would do, helping to save another person, in this case a family with two very young children, and in that light Mr. Hardman is a hero,” Fogarty said.

The occupants of the fishing boat were rescued by the crew of towboat Jackie Sue, operated by Osage Marine Services, Hammond said. The crew of Jackie Sue threw ring buoys to all five people from the fishing boat in the water, pulling them to safety. They were not seriously hurt.

The fishing boat suffered some kind of engine failure or perhaps ran out of fuel. It’s not known exactly what happened because the boat was swept under the barges and was lost, Fogarty said.

Hammond said that Hardman had worked for Hebron, Ky.-based Inland Marine about a year and was one of the regular crew of 11 on Richard A. Baker.

Hardman was a native of Ukiah, Calif., and lived in Barbourville, Ky., with his wife and daughter. Because of his age and experience, Hardman was known as “Pappy” to the other crewmembers on the boat. He was a graduate of Heald’s Engineering School and served in the U.S. Army. He served several years on fishing trawlers on the Bering Sea before going to work on the inland waterways.

Hammond hopes that one outcome of the incident is better education for recreational boaters on safe places to operate in the busy St. Louis port area.

“I’m hoping that we can get the word out more to recreational boaters because this incident did not have to happen,” Hammond said. “No small boat should have been there because it was in a commercial shipping area, not a recreational area.”

By Professional Mariner Staff