THE CAISSON DISASTER
Further Particulars From the Terrible
River Disaster at Jeffersonville
JEFFERSONVILLE, January 10. - The efforts to recover the bodies in the bridge caisson by pumping in air have been given up and in the morning men will be sent by the excavation shaft. It is hoped that the thirteen remaining bodies will be taken out and an inquest will be held at once. The body of Hamilton Morris was recovered in the pipe at the top of the sand before the machinery broke to-day. A telegram from Mr. John Knoch, sr., of Detroit, Mich., asks for the body of his son, John Knoch, not Knox as heretofore sent out, who was foreman of the men drowned. Also William Naylor, of 3,313 Atlantic street, West Philadelphia, asks for Pat Naylor. The relatives of Frank Mahar, of Newark, N.J., and James McAdams, Hyde Park, Pa., have not been heard from. [Illegible]smith & Co., contractors, claim through General Superintendent Willard, that the accident was not due to negligence, that Knoch was an especially competent man as shown by previous work here, and that he wasn't drinking, as they employ no drinking men. The story of Louis Couch, one of the men who escaped, is that Knoch disobeyed Superintendent Mitchell by letting the caisson down eighteen inches at a time instead of three inches, as directed. He says, too, that Knoch turned off the air completely after the caisson was lowered, instead of partially, and the rush of water and sand followed at once. Others who escaped corroborate this. Night Superintendent Murphy says that in a life in the business he never saw such an accident, and lays the blame on Knoch. Joe Fahringer, who was in the pumping-boat, says he ran to the mouth of the escape pipe as soon as he heard the ruch of air and met Abe Taylor and others as they came out, and they all tried to close the lower door of the air-locks, and save the others, but found it impossible.
It's obvious from this article and the one in the Tribune that many were eager to blame John for the accident. I can only imagine the muck that must've been raging in the local paper as well, but will have to wait for my trip to the archives to find out. The Report of the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Illinois Society of Engineers and Surveyors (1891), the General Committee on Engineering found:
"Two serious caisson accidents have happened here during the year. By the first, January 9, fourteen men were drowned, owing, according to the coroner's finding, to the men losing their presence of mind, and not from any fault of the contractor."John is not mentioned specifically, nor is the blame placed on any one man, but it's clear that the accident was ultimately attributed to human error - at least by one body of experts.