Towboat strikes St. Louis bridge scaffolding; worker falls to his death


A man who was sandblasting the side of a historic Mississippi River bridge was killed when a towing vessel struck the scaffolding where he was working, the Coast Guard said. 

The worker, James Pigue, 24, was on the Eads Bridge at St. Louis when the 1,800-hp towboat Danny Bradford hit the scaffolding where he was standing at about 1515 on July 16. Pigue and sections of scaffolding fell from the bridge and landed on the deck of Danny Bradford, said Lt. Daniel LiBrando, chief of investigations for Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River.

The incident occurred during a period of unusually high water and fast currents in the Mississippi River. The river channel was reduced to 300 feet within the center span of the Eads Bridge to accommodate the bridge work. At the time of impact, the towboat was outside that 300-foot area located within the center of the center span, the Coast Guard said. The scaffolding was within the center span but off to one side. 

The Eads Bridge.

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

“The current pushed (the towboat) outside that 300-foot area,” LiBrando said. “(The captain) was within the center span, but because of the bridge work the channel was limited to the middle 300 feet, and he was outside that when the collision occurred.”

The Coast Guard and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the incident. The official cause has not been released.
Danny Bradford was downbound with two barges loaded with coke when the top of its pilothouse hit the scaffolding. Pigue was sandblasting under a canvas barrier that blocked his view of the oncoming vessel, LiBrando said. The boat struck the scaffolding almost exactly where Pigue was working. 

The 141-year-old Eads Bridge was once the longest arch bridge in the world. It was an iconic image of St. Louis before the Gateway Arch was completed. The span links downtown St. Louis with East St. Louis, Ill., and carries vehicles and rail traffic. 

The incident resulted in damage to this section of scaffolding where the worker was sandblasting a section of the bridge. Investigators said some scaffolding and other debris fell onto the towboat. 

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

The bridge has a low clearance, which was reduced even further by high water and the presence of scaffolding hanging over the span, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Sean Haley. River gauges measured the river at 35 feet in the preceding days. Haley said normal water levels are between 15 and 20 feet.   

The impact damaged the vessel’s pilothouse and sheared navigation equipment from its roof, Haley said. Pigue worked for Thomas Industrial Coatings of Pevely, Mo. Company President Don Thomas declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation and pending litigation. 

Central Contracting and Marine of Festus, Mo., owns Danny Bradford. Attempts to reach a company spokesman were not successful. 

Pigue lived in Dittmer, Mo., located about 40 miles southwest of St. Louis. An obituary said he is survived by his wife and young daughter.

By Professional Mariner Staff