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Coast Guard officer temporarily relieved of duty after death of crew member

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: May 22
  • Published May 21

This Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 photo shows Homer Volunteer Fire Department emergency medical technicians treating a person injured when a crane tipped over in the buoy yard of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hickory at the Pioneer Dock on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Michael Armstrong/Homer News via AP)

The U.S. Coast Guard has temporarily relieved the commander of the Homer-based Cutter Hickory over a crane accident that killed a member of his crew earlier this year.

Chief Warrant Officer Michael Kozloski died on Jan. 31 at the Coast Guard’s buoy yard in Homer when a shoreside crane tipped over and struck him in the head, according to the results of an investigation released Tuesday. Coast Guard investigators found that the two crew members who were operating the crane hadn’t been trained in how to use it.

Rear Admiral Matthew T. Bell Jr., commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, temporarily relieved the ship’s commanding officer, citing “a loss of confidence in the officer’s ability to perform his duties,” the Coast Guard said in a news release Tuesday.

The commander’s relief is an administrative action that precedes a formal review by the branch’s headquarters, the Coast Guard explained.

Vice Admiral Linda L. Fagan, commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area, wrote in her investigation report that although the crane’s operator was ultimately responsible for trying to move the crane in a way that made it unstable, a lack of proper training and safety oversight onboard the Cutter Hickory made it “not a question of if a mishap would occur, but when.”

“His operation of the (crane) on the day of the mishap was the last link in an error chain of consistent and long-standing leadership deficiencies and complacency with shoreside heavy-lift operations," Fagan wrote.

The crane operator estimated that he’d used the crane between 10 and 20 prior to the accident, according to the report. His shipmate, who was acting as a rigger at the time of the accident, was also not trained to use the crane.

Fagan also cited the crane operator’s regular use of marijuana in the months leading up to the incident as “concerning,” though she couldn’t say definitively that he was under the influence when the accident happened.

Representatives from the Coast Guard did not respond to a voicemail left Tuesday.

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