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Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health

Accident Investigation Report
Sand and Gravel Dredge

Fatal Accident (Drowning)

Ross Island Plant
Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company
Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon
ID No. 35-00540

March 6, 1998


Collin R. Galloway
Supervisory Mine Inspector

James Zingler
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Western District
2060 Peabody Road, Suite 610
Vacaville, CA 95687

James M. Salois
District Manager


Kenneth Berkey, deckhand/assistant operator, age 48, drowned at about 2:00 p.m. on March 6, 1998 when he fell from a dredge into the Wilamette River. Berkey had a total of 22.5 weeks of mining experience, all at this operation. He had not received training in accordance with 30 CFR Part 48.

MSHA was notified at about 3:30 p.m. on the day of the accident by a telephone call from the company personnel manager. An investigation was started the same day.

The Ross Island Plant, a sand and gravel dredging operation, owned and operated by Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company, was located on the Wilamette River in Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon. Principal operating officials were A. Charles Steinwandel, executive vice president and general manager; Paul T. Godsil, general manager of sand, gravel and marine operations; and F. John Giddings, general superintendent of sand, gravel and marine operations. The plant was normally operated three, 8-hour shifts a day, five days a week. A total of 47 persons was employed.

Sand and gravel was mined by four clamshell dredges and barged to the processing plant, located on Ross Island, where it was sized and washed. The product was then barged to various locations downriver for sale as construction aggregate.

The last regular inspection of this operation was completed on October 9, 1997. Another regular inspection was conducted following this investigation.


The dredge involved in the accident consisted of a barge on which a crane was mounted, locally referred to as a "hull", and a barge onto which the mined material was loaded. The hull was 100 feet long by 43 feet wide. An electrically powered Washington-Worley crane, equipped with a five-cubic-yard clamshell, was mounted in the center of the hull. Two, three-drum, electrically-powered winches, one on each side of the hull near the stern, moved the barge as it was loaded. The hull was anchored with steel rams, known as "spuds", mounted on each corner of the stern, which were lowered to the river bottom to prevent movement of the hull. The distance from the deck of the hull to water level was 72 inches.

At the time of the accident, the dredge was located about 60 feet offshore of the Ross Island processing plant. The water was 12 to 15 feet deep at this location, depending on the tide. Tides were running from three to seven feet. Water temperature was approximately 50 degrees F and the winds were calm.

The dredge was operated by a two-person crew consisting of a clamshell operator and a deck hand/assistant operator. The deck hand operated the winches to move the material barge parallel to the hull during loading operations. He also performed routine maintenance during the shift.

The material barge was 155 feet long by 40 feet wide and had a capacity of 800 cubic yards. The barge was secured to the hull with cables during the loading process. Loaded barges were moved with a tugboat to the processing plant.

A 16-foot long by 6-foot wide skiff was used for transportation between the dredge and shore. Type III, U.S. Coast Guard approved, personal flotation devices (life vests) were provided to, and worn by, all employees working on the water. These vests were designed to float a conscious person in a vertical or slightly backward position. Berkey was wearing a life vest and reportedly knew how to swim.


On the day of the accident, Kenneth Berkey (victim) and Gregory Jackson, clamshell operator, reported for work at 7:00 a.m., their regular starting time. They were planning to dredge spilled material along the piling line adjacent to the processing plant in order to increase flotation for the loaded barges at the processing plant. During this cleanup process, a barge was half-loaded with sand and moved by tugboat to another dredge in the river, where rock was loaded and mixed with the sand.

Work proceeded without incident throughout the morning. Jackson and Berkey half-loaded two barges. While Jackson operated the clamshell, Berkey performed routine maintenance work which included painting new tide boards which would later be installed on the pilings adjacent to the Ross Island plant. The boards were two inches by six inches by 12 feet long and were painted white with red numbers at one-foot intervals. The tide boards were used as reference points by the dredge crews to indicate tide level. Berkey painted the boards in a work area located toward the bow of the hull, then carried the boards toward the stern and left them in the sun to dry.

Since Berkey planned to leave work at 2:30 p.m. for a doctor's appointment, the two men decided not to break for lunch. Jackson continued loading the barge and at about noon, Berkey took the skiff to the island to pick up some expanded metal.

Berkey returned to the dredge with the expanded metal and resumed painting the tide boards. At about 1:30 p.m., an employee from the office arrived at the dredge to give Berkey and Jackson their paychecks. Jackson shut down the clamshell, gave Berkey his check and the two men resumed their duties. When the third and final barge was being loaded, Jackson saw Berkey moving the freshly-painted tide boards to the rear of the dredge.

When Jackson finished loading the barge, he signaled Berkey by sounding the horn. He then exited the cab of the crane to discuss with Berkey how they were going to cut the barge loose so that it could be moved by the tugboat.

Jackson could not find Berkey anywhere on the dredge, so he radioed for help, then got into the skiff to search the area around the dredge. As Jackson backed the skiff away from the barge, he saw a life vest in the water about where the skiff had been tied. At the same time, two employees who were on a catwalk at the processing plant looked down and saw Berkey face down in the water. From Jackson's vantage point in the rear of the skiff, he could only see the life vest because Berkey's body was slightly below the surface.

Jackson maneuvered the skiff alongside Berkey to pull him on board. At the same time, John Giddings, general superintendent, who had heard Jackson's radio call, arrived in another boat and helped pull Berkey into the skiff. Jackson and Giddings noticed a small lump on Berkey's forehead. The victim's hard hat and one of the freshly painted tide boards were found in the skiff.

Jackson piloted the skiff to shore while Giddings performed CPR on Berkey. An ambulance and emergency medical personnel had been summoned and were waiting at the boat ramp on shore. The county medical examiner arrived shortly thereafter and Berkey was pronounced dead at the scene


What caused Berkey to fall into the river is unknown. The medical examiner's report indicated the cause of death was drowning, which may have been caused by a cardio-vascular event. The autopsy report indicated evidence of heart disease and it was known that the victim was diabetic.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB98M11