One Dead, Three Hurt In Tug Explosion, Fire
Algonac - One civilian employe of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was killed, and three other men were burned, when the 45-foot tug ANCHOR BAY, owned and operated by the U.S. Army corps of Engineers, exploded and burned at 9:45 a.m. today in the South Channel of the St. Clair River.
Melvin Kaupila, Detroit was tentatively identified as the crew member killed.
Crew members reported injured were Herman J. Cole, Algonac, who had burns on his head and hand, Willis A. Cross, Jr., 7455 Marsh Road, and Willis Dibble, Marine City. Mr. Cross and Mr. Dibble were reported to have suffered serious burns. The injured are in River District Hospital in East China Township.
The accident happened in American waters, and just offshore of Harsens Island.
The tug, which was pulling a sweep raft back to Detroit for winter lay-up, apparently exploded as the craft was headed south, about one mile south of the Old Club located at the south end of Harsens Island.
Crewmen were able to beach the craft on a small man-made island which is connected to Harsens Island by a small foot bridge.
Observers at the scene reported there was extensive damage to the interior of the tug. The fire on board the grounded tug was reported almost extinguished shortly before noon.
Two U.S. Army Corps tugs were enroute to the scene. Also responding were Coast Guards at the St. Clair Flats Station, the Clay Township police and fire departments, and an air-sea rescue unit which dispatched a helicopter to the scene. The Coast Guard cutter Bramble was also reported on the scene.
"The boat just blew up on the inside, ran out of control, and into the island," an observer living near The Old Club reported. "The tug doesn't look too bad from the outside, but inside she's ruined."
Lt. Commander H. Pinter at the U.S. Coast Guard in Detroit said officials are being sent to the scene to investigate the explosion and fire. He confirmed the tug was under way when the accident happened.
The Corps of Engineers in Detroit also said it was sending its personnel to investigate the accident, but had no other information at noon today.
To Coastguardsmen were reported to be witnesses to the explosion, which happened directly in the center of the channel some 500 feet from shore. It was later reported the dug drifted ashore.
It was reported the body of Kaupila was found next to the engine room, with his clothing torn away.
The other three injured crewmen were found at the stern of the tug.