Seaman disappears in Mississippi River

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 18, 1998

L’Observateur / March 18, 1998

RESERVE – A 20-year-old Guatemalan crewman aboard the Greek- registered “Golden Polydinamos” apparently lost his life while trying to retrieve a ball cap which blew off his head and into the Mississippi River.

Cargill spokesman Jeff Mesick said Monday that at 11:50 a.m. VidaHernandez was scraping the ship on the deck when his ball cap blew off his head and into the river.

He climbed down a rope ladder and tried to reach the cap from the ladder.

Unable to reach it, he let go of the ladder and swam toward the cap, but he was not wearing a life preserver.

Realizing Hernandez was in trouble from the chilly 50-degree water, fellow crewmen threw him life-rings but were unable to reach him.

Moments later, his head dipped beneath the surface.

The ship had been in port since Friday, loading corn bound for Mexico.

Loading operations ceased while searchers combed the river and banks, including crews from the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office, Port of SouthLouisiana Harbor Services and the U.S. Coast Guard, which contributed ahelicopter to the search.

Harbor Services director Mitch Smith said the “John James Charles” fireboat crew was engaged in the search, but he saw little hope for Hernandez. The other port fireboat, the “Rescue Runner,” is in dry dock.Smith said the river surface current was four to six knots, but the river is filled with eddying currents, subsurface currents and undertows which can sweep away a swimmer in distress.

Depth of the river at that point, Smith said, is 60 feet.

“The river is unforgiving,” Smith commented.

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