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Coast Guard still looking for man lost in crane accident

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / June 15, 1998

CONVENT – Three men were injured and one is feared dead following a crane collapse at Illinois Central Gulf Railroad RailMarine terminal, upriver from Convent.

St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said the accident took place at5:40 p.m. Thursday during weight-testing on the ship unloader, deliveredfrom the East European nation of Slovenia on March 31.

U.S. Coast Guard searchers, joined by crews from the Port of SouthLouisiana, searched for the crane operator Joze Oblak, last seen in the cab of the equipment when it toppled.

He had not been found by Friday afternoon.

Martin on Friday reported the discovery of a bag containing Oblak’s identification and also a life vest. The sheriff said he wasn’t sure whatthat signified, if anything, but the search continues.

“As time passes, you know it’s no longer search and rescue, but recovery,” Martin commented.

Two others working on the crane escaped with injuries. The GeneralElectric employees were identified as Adam Deleanides and Darryl Rousselle. Deleanides remains in stable condition at Our Lady of the LakeHospital in Baton Rouge, and Rousselle was treated for his injuries and released from that same hospital.

An ICG Rail Marine employee, Cary Smith of Harvey, was treated for a bruised leg at St. James Parish Hospital in Lutcher. A Connex-Metalnaemployee, Goran Rajgic, sustained scratches on his arms but did not require hospital treatment.

Three Associated Terminals workmen on a barge below the crane were also slightly injured. They were identified as Roy Reed, Ivy Landry andDoug Stinson. They were all treated at River Parishes Hospital, LaPlace,and released.

Company policy dictates all workers on the river wear life vests at all times, and the three rescued all wore life vests, Martin said.

The crane was a Slovenian-manufactured, 1,200-ton crane, which extended 224 feet. Apparently, during testing of load capacity, the craneover-extended itself and collapsed into the river in a rush of twisted metal.

Mitch Smith, director of harbor services for the Port of South Louisiana, said the “John James Charles” rescue boat remained on station throughout the night and continued on Friday, serving as a platform for searching divers.

He added the Coast Guard has notified river traffic of the accident, and advised them to proceed with caution while rescue and salvage operations are going on.

Smith said he had no idea how long it would take to salvage the wrecked crane, but he added it posed no restriction to navigation of the river at that point.

Bruce Conti, president of ICG Rail Marine, said in a prepared statement Friday, “Our immediate priority is to locate the missing person. Divingprofessionals are searching for him now and will continue searching for him for as long as necessary.”Theresa Roy, administrative manager for American Iron Reduction, which would use the crane services of the ICG Marine Terminal to off-load its iron ore, said Friday there would be “no significant reduction in our operation at all.”Roy added, “We have sufficient product to last us awhile,” and expressed AIR’s concerns for the injured men and missing person.

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