A tug pushing an empty barge ahead ran over and crushed a 27-foot motorboat on Lake Michigan in May. The lone operator of the boat lived to tell about it.
The 60-foot tug Mary Page Hanna was headed northwest pushing an empty 200-foot hopper barge towards Chicago on a calm, clear afternoon on May 8th, when it ran over a drifting twin-engine Formula-type speedboat. The accident came close to killing the speedboat’s 50-year-old skipper, who had been attempting to repair one of his engines at the time.
“I was bent over the engine compartment in the cockpit for about 10 minutes, trying to get a belt back on, when I stood up take a look around and stretch my back,” said Erich Boehm, a cable-TV executive from Indiana. “As soon as I stood up, the rake of this barge looms up over the stern of my boat and begins to drive everything underwater. I was knocked flat in the cockpit, just as the stern went under. Within seconds the entire boat, with me there on my knees in the cockpit, was entirely underwater with the bottom of the barge sliding overhead,” he added.
Coast Guard officials said that Boehm’s boat was one of several in the area. Investigators said the tug’s captain indicated he was aware of boat’s nearby, but probably did not see the vessel that he ran over until after it popped back to the surface — with no one aboard. It is not known what kind of a lookout was posted on the tug or barge.
The tug had been moving at a little less than nine knots at the time of the collision, according to reports.
Boehm said that about 10 or 15 minutes before the collision he had taken a look around the horizon and saw only a few small boats nearby andmdash;within a mile or so — as well as the tug and barge, which he had previously passed some distance from the accident site. He said he did not consider the tug and barge to be a threat, though he was vaguely aware that they were headed in his direction. At the time, one of Boehm’s two engines was shut down because of an overheating problem, but the other engine was working and the boat could have been maneuvered, according to its owner.
“There’s really no explanation as to why I’m still alive,” said the boat owner. “People die all the time from accidents much simpler than this. Here I was run over by a 200-foot barge and then almost chopped up by a tugboat’s propellers and I’m still talking about it.”
Boehm said he was fully conscious and aware of holding his breath the entire time that he was under the barge. As the barge’s hull slid over the boat for almost its entire length, it periodically scraped flesh from Boehm’s back and one time crushed his hand between the edge of the boat and the barge.” I do a lot of scuba diving, so I was accustomed to being underwater and able to keep control of myself,” he explained.” But I knew I was nearing the end since I could only hold my breath for so long. After what seemed an eternity the water around the boat started to get lighter and I figured we must be near the edge of the barge. I took my only chance and maneuvered myself through the space created by the windshield frame of my boat, getting scraped pretty badly all the while. It worked though, because a second or two later I popped up out of the water just near the end of the barge where the tug was pushing ahead. I was knocked back by the port bow of the tug almost instantly and then I got into the bow wave and propeller wash of the tug. I was whirled around and sucked underwater again. I could hear the grinding noise of the propeller, but miraculously, the next thing I knew I was bobbing on the surface behind the tug, watching it proceed on its way.”
By then, Boehm was floating severely injured in 54 deg; water with only slight chance of survival. His luck continued to hold, however, as first a cushion from his boat popped to the surface next to him, offering immediate flotation assistance, and then some people aboard a small boat, who had been fishing nearby, rushed in to rescue him.
Boehm was soon being treated at a nearby hospital for several lacerations that ran the length of his body, a crushed hand, and a concussion. Some weeks later, he was back at work for U.S. Cable Co. of Northern Indiana. Boehm said he has not yet been in touch with the tug’s crew.
The tug’s crew, alerted to the situation by gestures from the occupants of nearby vessels and from radio traffic, stopped about a mile from the site but were unable to offer direct assistance, according to reports. Coast Guard officials have been investigating the accident.