Coast Guard investigation into deadly barge explosion begins

Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-16 19:42:46-04

It has been 9 months since two crew members lost their lives during a barge explosion off the coast of Port Aransas. Now an in-depth investigation is underway to determine the cause of that blast. 

The Coast Guard requested this investigation into the October 20th explosion, which also caused a massive oil spill and set off a massive cleanup effort along Port Aransas beaches.

Two crew members were killed in the blast. 

The body of Dujour Vanterpool was recovered days later. Zachariah Jackson still has not been found. 

A Coast Guard hearing began today in Houston, and dozens of witnesses will testify over the next two weeks. The family of one of the crew members killed hopes the inquiry will finally answer their questions about what happened and why.

"It’s pretty emotional. It’s hard to hear, last moments of my brother and Dujour," Morgan Jackson, Zach Jackson’s brother, said. 

The Bouchard barge explosion not only cut two lives short, it also changed the lives of the crew members’ families. 

"One day at a time. I don’t think that there’s ever going to be a day where we’re finally okay," Jackson said. 

However, the cause of the explosion is still not clear. That is why the Coast Guard requested the in-depth investigation.

"Two people were killed in this explosion. It’s an absolute tragedy. And my heart goes out to the families. My heart goes out to the crew members who had to witness that who tried to save them. It’s truly a tragedy, and my hope is that by sitting here they can truly understand what may have happened," Commander Nicole Rodriguez, Chief of Prevention for Houston-Galveston, said. 

After the hearing, Coast Guard investigators hope to determine the cause of the explosion, and provide recommendations so casualties like this will not happen again. The National Transportation Safety Board is also joining the hearing and investigating the incident. 

"Nothing’s ever going to replace Zach, there’s not doubt about that. But any time you have something like this we find that at least knowing why, and holding people accountable certainly provides at least some sense of closure for the family," Caj Boatright, an attorney with Houston-based firm Arnold & Itkin, said. 

Boatright represents for Zach Jackson’s family, and also Lonnie Roberts, a tugboat mate who was the first to testify on the opening day of the hearing. 

Roberts choked back tears as he gave a firsthand account of witnessing flames, an explosion, and then his two crew mates disappear in the blast. 

"I just hope that at some point we can put a stop to these type of tragedies that easily can be prevented with good safety procedures in place," Boatright said. 

While the hearing cannot bring back his brother, Morgan Jackson also hopes preventing a similar tragedy is exactly what this investigation will acheive. 

"We want it to be safe for everybody, not just for that company, but for the industry. It could have been prevented, definitely," Jackson said. 

In a statement, Bouchard Transportation tells us they are fully cooperating with the Coast Guard’s requests for information about safety procedures.

The statement continues: 

"We are profoundly saddened by the tragic loss of our two fellow crewmembers in this incident. From the moment it occurred, we did everything possible to assist the Coast Guard in its search for our missing employees and to determine the cause of the accident. It is critical to us that we closely examine every aspect of this tragedy and learn everything we can to prevent an accident like this from ever happening again."

Dozens of witnesses are expected to testify over the course of the next two weeks. The Jackson family may be among them.  

To watch a live feed the formal hearing for Bouchard No. 255 Barge, click here.