Barge Breakaway Sparks Scramble, Rescue

The breakup of a large tow sent barges drifting downriver on the Mississippi River near Savanna, Ill., April 24, prompting the rescue of three crewmembers from one barge. 

Savanna sits on the Illinois side of the river, about halfway between the Quad Cities and Dubuque, Iowa. Just north of town is the brand-new Savanna-Sabula Bridge. 

According to a press release from Savanna Fire Chief Scott Wolfe, at 10:48 a.m. the Savanna Fire Department (SFD) was contacted by the Coast Guard and told that several barges had broken free from a tow being pushed by the mv. Jonathan Erickson and were drifting south toward the Savanna-Sabula bridge. Three crewmembers were reported to be onboard one of the barges that had broken free. The fire department responded with two fire boats, and firefighters were able to remove the three deckhands from the barge quickly.

A six-barge tow section occupied by the employees, a two-barge section and a single barge had already made it past the bridge before SFD had arrived on scene.  The Savanna Police Department informed the fire department that the single barge had struck the bridge and was taking on water. A tug from Sabula had been contacted and was able to gain control of the six-barge and two-barge sections on the Iowa side, while the sinking single barge eventually ran aground out of the channel on the Illinois side.

While this was taking place in front of Savanna, according to Wolfe, the Jonathan Erickson was busy gathering up barges that were still north of the bridge and reforming the tow.

Due to the allision with the bridge, the Illinois Department of Transportation, along with the SFD, Savanna Police Department and law enforcement from Iowa shut the bridge down for several hours while crews inspected the bridge for damage. IDOT opened the bridge just after 2 p.m. 

No injuries were reported. 

The 6,140 hp. Jonathan Erickson was built in 1965 by Dravo Corporation. It was formerly known as the Helen S and the Nolan R. Borden. It was renamed by Marquette Transportation Company after repowering in 2008.