How jet-skiers rescued the crew of a sinking tugboat on the Illinois River in Peoria

·4 min read

PEORIA — Josh Bradshaw and Erik Watson went from riding jet-skis to riding to the rescue on the Illinois River on Saturday afternoon.

"I looked over at this tugboat, and something about it didn't look right," Bradshaw said. "I realized it was sinking, and three minutes later it was gone."

And in those three minutes, Bradshaw and Watson, enjoying the day with a jet-ski group on the river, rescued tug owner and captain Dick Hamm and a crew member who was working on the tug with him.

"They were really shaken, and intent on getting out of there," Bradshaw said. "We got them to the shore, and they walked up the hill onto the road, called for a ride, and left."

The 50-foot tug went down north of the McClugage Bridge, before the IVY Club, in a channel 17 feet deep on Saturday afternoon, according to authorities. No injuries were reported.

"Anyone on the water would have done this," Bradshaw said. "The boating community is like this, very close, very willing to help each other and look out for each other. It's just what people on the water do."

How do they get it out of there?

Josh Bradshaw on his jet-ski as he zips near a sinking tugboat operated by Dick Hamm on the Illinois River on Saturday, June 25, 2022.
Josh Bradshaw on his jet-ski as he zips near a sinking tugboat operated by Dick Hamm on the Illinois River on Saturday, June 25, 2022.

Fon du Lac Park District Police Chief Mike Johnson, the lead man on the water for the department, said the tugboat will impact commercial traffic on the river until it can be removed. That might not happen until after July 4.

The Fon du Lac Park District Police, the Coast Guard and Hamm had planned to meet to create a removal plan. Johnson said Hamm is responsible to coordinate the tugboat's removal.

"It's going to take a specialized recovery," Johnson said. "The barge will likely be there through the holiday, so we have put out a warning to all traffic on the river to proceed with caution there, and we've marked the area carefully.

"It sank in 17 feet of water, but the distance from the surface down to the barge's highest point is only 6 feet. It will affect some of our commercial traffic. If you're too big to get around it, you'll have to tie up at the shore and wait it out."

Johnson said the Coast Guard will take the lead on the investigation of the sinking. Authorities believe a mechanical issue might have caused the tug to sink.

The Fon du Lac Park police and the Peoria Fire Department will have personnel who specialize in river rescue and recovery on scene during the tug's removal to assure safety.

More: Three people saved from boat that ran aground in Illinois River near Chillicothe

Right guys, right place, right time

Bradshaw, 49, is a community resource manager for Advanced Medical Transport. Watson, a Washington native, is a truck driver. Washington native Trey Kampmeier was another member of their jet-ski group.

Bradshaw, a Pekin native, has worked as a background actor on NBC's "Chicago Fire," "Chicago Med" and "Chicago PD" TV shows. But Saturday was the real deal.

"I have been trained in water rescue and worked on the Advanced river rescue team," Bradshaw said. "Quite a coincidence I was there. We were hanging out right there, and the barge looked like it was sitting really low in the water. But sometimes they look like that when they aren't towing anything.

"The barge had shifted onto its side and then it just went under, at about 2:45 p.m. I didn't know it could happen that fast."

Watson got the captain out, and Bradshaw grabbed the other crew member.

More: Peoria man identified as person killed in Jet Ski accident on the Illinois River

Debris floats on the Illinois River after a tugboat operated by Dick Hamm sunk north of the McClugage Bridge on Saturday, June 25, 2022.
Debris floats on the Illinois River after a tugboat operated by Dick Hamm sunk north of the McClugage Bridge on Saturday, June 25, 2022.

Johnson has been handling river operations for nearly three decades, but what happened Saturday was a first for him.

"I've been doing this for 29 years and I've never seen a tug sink out there," Johnson said. "That is one of the most dangerous spots in the river. It has strong currents and depth there; they (the tug operators) are very lucky."

As for Hamm? He didn't have much to say Sunday, ending a call abruptly.

"Just a boat sinking, nothing unusual," he said. "Thanks."

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.

This article originally appeared on Journal Star: Jet-skiers rescued crew of sinking tugboat on Peoria's Illinois River