Gates and Fox worked three shifts at our mining project on Lake Sakakawea near Beulah, ND. Like all multiple shift jobs, the graveyard shift had higher than normal employee turnover rates. Many people would take night shift employment until they could find normal day shift employment elsewhere. Such was the case of Bob LeMay’s crane operator on the off shore shaft graveyard shift. The operator gave Bob a few days notice. I called the local Operators union hall and ordered a new operator. My conversation with the new operator while getting him signed up at our job site office indicated he was used to the type of work we were doing. He had certifications to operate the 3900 Manitowoc which was on the offshore barge. He was given shift times and told where to meet the crew and tugboat for transportation to the barge for graveyard shift.
Bob’s crew assembled on the dock and took the tugboat to the off shore barge for shift change. The crew consisted of Bob, two miners, a welder mechanic, a crane operator, a top lander, and the tugboat operator. They held a safety meeting, serviced their equipment, and prepared the tools needed for the nights work in the 8 feet diameter shaft. The shaft cage was hanging in the shaft at the collar adjacent to the access platform. The tugboat went ashore with the off going swing shift.
My phone rang about one in the morning. The tugboat operator informed me the new crane operator had let Bob and two of his crew down the shaft in the enclosed circular cage. He let them free fall a considerable distance then jerked on the brake to stop the fall. The cage had bounced around going down and the sudden stop drove all three men to their knees in the tight confines of the cage. The crane operator couldn’t operate the crane and didn’t dare try to move them. Bob sent the tugboat operator to call me so my day shift crane operator could come out and get them out of the shaft. I told the tugboat operator to go back to the barge, get the new operator, and bring him to shore. He had better be off the project before Bob LeMay gets out of that shaft and kills him. If Bob didn’t kill him, I would definitely kick his butt all the way back to Bismark.
I picked up Joe, my crane operator, and we got to the barge about two thirty. We were very cautious as we didn’t know if the crane malfunctioned or if the incident was operator error. We had no way to get Bob and his two hands out of the cage. The crane operated normally. When the cage hit the collar of the shaft Bob’s first move was to find the non-operator. All three of the men in the cage had some scrapes caused by going from freefall to stop in a heartbeat, but no serious injuries. The crew ate lunch and went back to work with Joe operating the crane. The incident and accident reports took up the rest of my night.
Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake………..by not letting Bob LeMay get his hands on that non-operator.