The U.S. Coast Guard reports that improper crane operation was the direct cause of a January crane incident that killed a member of the Coast Guard cutter Hickory’s crew. The findings were released May 17.

Just before 2 p.m. on Jan. 31, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Kozloski, 35, from Mahopac, New York, was working in the Coast Guard buoy yard in Homer when the crane fell, striking him on the head and pinning him.

He was taken to South Peninsula Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The crane involved is owned and maintained by the Coast Guard cutter Hickory. Two people were working on the crane that day: an operator and a rigger. The report says that neither one had adequate training or qualifications to do their jobs. Additionally, the operator knew that the rigger wasn’t qualified, but the rigger didn’t know that the operator wasn’t qualified.

The pair was moving four loads of equipment, each weighing between about 700–800 pounds, from the tops of shipping containers to the ground. The crane tipped over as the operator was lowering the fourth load.

The investigation found that neither the rigger nor the operator had made an estimation of the load weights and that the operator was attempting a lift “exceeding the operating capabilities of the equipment.” Not only was it too heavy, but it was also improperly balanced on the crane.

The day after the crash, a test of the operator’s blood and urine was positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. A test of a hair sample taken about a month later showed that the operator regularly used marijuana in the months leading up to the mishap, the lab reported.

While the operator’s poor judgment was determined to be the cause of the incident, the Coast Guard also lists contributing factors.

“This error chain is like a set of dominos all converging at this mishap. In my opinion, it was not a question of if a mishap would occur, but when,” the report reads.

Unit leadership allowed unqualified people to operate the crane and fostered an environment of complacency. There was a qualified operator in the yard on Jan. 31 who could have taken over the crane, but that direction was never given by leadership.

The report says this lackadaisical environment contributed to the crane operator believing he was qualified to handle the equipment, even though he had only gotten informal training from the qualified operator.

The report also asserts that the unit’s leadership hadn’t put as much emphasis on shoreside operations, like lifting and moving equipment, as it had cutter operations, like missions training.  

Earlier this month, Rear Adm. Matthew T. Bell Jr. relieved Lt. Cmdr. Adam Leggett of command of the Coast Guard cutter Hickory, citing lack of confidence in his abilities. A formal review has been initiated.

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