The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
John B. King, exploded, 26 May 1930


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THIRTY DIE WHEN LIGHTNING SINKS BOAT NEAR BROCKVILLE
      BOLT FIRES DYNAMITE, BLOWS CRAFT TO BITS
      Men Killed In Bunks
      Only Eleven Are Rescued When Drill Boat Is Splintered By Lightning And Workers
      Sent To Bottom; Gallant Coast Guardmen Pick Up Survivors Clinging To Wreckage
      And Find One Body.-Search For 29 Other Dead Prosecuted Without Result So Far.
      DEBRIS TOSSES 200 FEET HIGH BY TERRIFIC FORCE OF BLAST
      ( by William Marchingtom, staff correspondent of the Globe.)
      BROCKVILLE, June 26.- Thirty members of the drill scow JOHN B. KING of St. Catharines were either instantly killed or blow to death by drowning when a lightning bolt struck the dynamite laden craft three and a half mils up the river at 5.30 o'clock this evening.
      Eleven of the forty three crew were rescued by a United States Revenue cutter, and one dead body was taken from the wreckage. The tragedy was witnessed by people ashore and by the Captain and crew of the American vessel, whioh was less than half a mile from the ill fated-ship when the lightning struck.
      Dynamite detonated.
      The storm which ended so disastrously had been in progress about an hour - the first severe electrical disturbance experienced in the Brockville and Thousand Island district in several weeks, and the accompanying rain was looked upon as a welcome relief from the heat wave of the past forty-eight hours. The men on the drill boat were going ahead with their work of widening and deepening the St. Lawrence River channel when suddenly a terrific bolt struck the ship and detonated a large quantity of dynamite with which the holes beneath and alongside the vessel had been loaded during the afternoon. The craft was split asunder by the bolt, wreckage was hurled into the air a distance of 200 feet, and when the smoke had cleared virtually no trace of the ship was to be seen, and most of the crew had disappeared beneath the waves.
      Flash, Smoke and wreckage.
      "There was a great flash,a cloud of smoke, and when the smoke had blown away the drill boat had gone down and only a few survivors strugling in the water were to be seen", said Mrs. C. Walklete, who was sitting on the veranda of her cottage, on the Canadian side of the River. Another eye-witness was Captain G. B. Lok of the United States revenue cutter CGQ-II.
The revenue cutter was a half mile away, upstream, when Captain Lok and his wheelsman saw a blinding flash and heard the accompanying explosion, which was described, as 'terrific'. The American cutter set out full speed for the scen, of the tragedy, arriving there within a few minutes,and picking up the survivors, who were brought to Brookville.
      Some ashore ?
      Late tonight, it was stated, after the list of dead had been given out that it was possible one or two of the men mentioned may have been on shore leave or off duty, but none of them had as yet reported.
"The catastrophe, which totally wrecked the giant drill boat, which was capable of placing 12 charges at one time, occurred at 4:45 o'clock (day-light saving time), this afternoon.
The crew of over two score, were engaged in their customary work, the boat being at the north east point of Cockburn Island, about a mile and a half west of Brockville, well out in the main channel, the Canadian channel in the St. Lawrence River. Sudden squalls and lightning are customary on this part of the river, and the crew continued their duties in the ordinary way.
Then came the terrible bolt of lightning, and in the twinkling of an eye, the great vessel was rent asunder, and over two-score men were hurled to their deaths or left struggling in the chill waters, clinging to what wreckage they could find.
      The warning
      R. A. McNeill, of Brockville, day foreman, one of the rescued, stated that, without warning the bottom seemed to go from under the drill boat, and he found himself floating on some planking in the water.
"It was all over in an instant" stated McNeill, and happened with such suddeness, that it was hard to tell at first what really happened. All about me were bodies of dead men, and men still alive, and struggling for their lives. It was not long before I was picked up, but in the meantime, many of the bodies had disappeared beneath the waters of the St. Lawrence".
      This morning nine holes were blown in the rock, Just north of Cockburn Island, about three miles west of here, and the work of drilling more holes was proceeding.
      When the explosion occurred, after the lightning bolt, some members of the night crew, were sitting in their bunks, and they with the others reported lost, probably never had a chance for their lives.
      At midnight, Luther Ruchenbecker, the Superintendent of operations on the drill boat, J. B. KING, said the latest check-up, indicated the toll of dead, would be either 29 or 30.
      Earlier estimates had placed the number of those missing at 31..
      DOG HERO PERISHES WITH MAN HE SAVED
      KING decorated for valor, is among drill-boat victims
      "KING", died here this afternoon, in the drill-boat catastrophe.
King, was a dog, but a real dog, a friend of all men, but friend in particular of Jack Wylie, one of the crew. Early last March King rescued Wylie from drowning in front of the local wharf, to "hit" the front page, and to earn the dog HERO award and a medal from the Dog Hero Award Commitee for unusual gallantry.
As the drill-boat was undergoing repairs, when ice conditions were trechorous, Wylie went through the ice as machinery was being moved across it, from the shore, King, who was playing about the craft, and who was as devoted to the crew, as they were to him, immediately Jumped into the icy water and heroically brought Wylie to the surface, after he had become unconscious and was about to drown.
KING was on the drill boat today, with Wylie, likely, when it blew to bits beneath them. Neither has been seen since..

      the Toronto Globe
      Friday, June 27, 1930

      . . . . .

      DERRICKS AID DIVERS TO GET BLAST VICTIMS
      Efforts Will Be Made To Remove Wreckage First-Hazardous Venture
Brockville, June 30. -- Derricks on the tug SALVAGE PRINCE and divers are attempting in -- the Narrows to-day to raise the boilers and machinery of the drill-barge J. B. KING that was shattered in a dynamite blasting field detonated by a bolt of lightning on Thursday evening with a loss of thirty lives.
      For all the dead men Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, Father Michael Meagher, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church prays on Sunday, the only distinction being that spacial prayers were said for Ivan Hoy and B. A. Killarney, well-known athletes, the two Brockville member of his church. In St. Peters Trinity and St. Pauls Anglican; in Wall St. and St. Johns United Church; in First Church, Presbyterian, First Baptist and the other proebstant churches all the ministers prayed that comfort and courage should be accorded to the bereaved families and relatives of the drowned men.
Among the messages of condolence to the loved ones of those drowned sent to the Mayor and the President of the J. Porter & Sons Ltd., was one from the Rt. Hon. Mackenzie King. All day Sunday, R. Fred Porter, president of the Company, directed negotiations for more divers and wrecking apparatus to continue the search for bodies of the missing men. On Sunday Mr. Porter issued the following statement:
" Two days examination, by three divers of the wreck and sunken drill barge J. B. KING have demonstrated that nothing more can be done towards recovering any bodies which may be in the mass of wreckage without extreme hazard to the lives of the divers engaged. The firm of J. P. Porter and Sons Ltd., owners of the sunken drill boat, have chartered the Pyke Salvage Company wrecking steamer SALVAGE PRINCE.
"This vessel has on board a 10 ton derrick which will be used to remove the tangled mass of wrecked drill equipment and other machinery overlaying the major part of the sunken barge.
"After such wreckage is cleared sufficiently to permit of diving operations to be resumed without the existing hazard to the lives of the divers, a thorough examination of every part of the J. B. KING will be made and no effort will be spared to recover the bodies of the missing member of the drill boat crew," signed R. Fred Porter
The somewhat extended report of Diver Geo. Fisher, whose intrepid exploration of the wreck on Saturday, at the risk of his life, in a strong current, gives a graphic idea of the tangled destruction that lies on the bottom of the river, as well as of the danger involved. Except for one arm of a man, he saw no trace of the thirty of the crew who were drowned.
      Toronto STAR
      Monday, June 30, 1930 p. 3

      . . . . .

      RIVER SEARCH ENDS : 17 Bodies Missing
      Hopes Abandoned After Long quest At Drill Boat Blast
      Memorial Is Suggested
      Brockville Aug. 12: -- Captain T. D. Caldwell returned yesterday to Ottawa after being stationed here sInce a day or two following the explosion of the drill boat J. B. KING on June 26 th. with the loss of 30 lives.
      He represents the Depertment of Public Works in an effort to locate all the bodies possible.
Although the Dept. spent $8,O00 in it's endeavour to bring to the surface of the river the victims of the disaster, only 13 bodies were found, there are still 17 bodies unaccounted for beneath the waters of the St. Lawrence and in the opinion of Captain Caldwell, they will not likely now be recovered. The boilers and machinery of the drill boat are said to be twisted into an immovable mass through the terrible force of the explosion. Capt. Caldwell believes everything possible has been done to recover the bodies.
There is a feeling that the site of the drill boat disaster should be marked with a cairn, or some memorial..
      Toronto GLOBE
      Thursday, August 14, 1930

      . . . . .

      Drill scow JOHN B. KING Canadian Official Number 130255
The drill scow No. 36 of John B. King & Co. Construction Co. of 684.14 tons, registered at the port of Windsor, on lease to the J. B. Porter & Sons of St. Catharines, contracting Firm to widen and deepen the Brockville Narrows under a Public Works contract.
The drill scow was the largest in Canada and was valued at $100,000, when in full operation with double shifts operating night and day, it carried a crew of 42 men, she was 140 feet in length with a beam of 50 feet, it carried 12 drills which could be used individually or simultaneously, two timber spuds 65 feet in height and 56 inches square gave the boat balance when drilling, she drew seven feet of water and had a blacksmith's shop on board, large boilers to supply steam for her engines and drilling equipment.

The drill boat had finished drilling and the holes charged with dynamite detonation wires attached to the charges led to the drill boat and she was pulling away from the site when struck by lightning, detonating the underwater charges as well as the dynamite on board
killing 30 persons on June 26,1930

Located in 50 to 55 feet of water 60 feet downstream from flashing green navigation light No. 145 A, and about 50 feet out in the channel
      N 43 degrees 33' 46"
      W 75 degrees 42' 45" chart No. 1417

      Drill scow registered at the Port of Windsor, of 684 tons Reg.


Media Type:
Text
Newspaper
Item Type:
Clippings
Notes:
Reason: exploded
Lives: 26
Remarks: Totral loss
Date of Original:
1930
Subject(s):
Local identifier:
McN.W.21095
Language of Item:
English
Donor:
William R. McNeil
Copyright Statement:
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
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John B. King, exploded, 26 May 1930