The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration "has opened an investigation in response to a report of an employee of Roen Salvage of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., suffering fatal injuries earlier this week on Lake Superior," it said Wednesday.
The Department of Labor confirmed the investigation through an OSHA spokesperson.
"OSHA has six months to complete an investigation, issue citations and propose penalties, if it finds violations of workplace safety and health regulations," the unidentified spokesperson said in an email.
OSHA added that it would make no further comments until the investigation was complete.
The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office said late Monday that Duluth firefighters found Donald James Sarter, 68, of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., in shallow water off Park Point near Sky Harbor Airport. Despite lifesaving efforts at the scene, Sarter was pronounced dead.
Sarter was the operator of a 21-foot Monark aluminum-hulled boat that capsized at about 11 a.m. after the engine became waterlogged in heavy waves near the Superior Entry and off Park Point, according to the sheriff's office report.
At the time of the water emergency call at approximately 11 a.m. on Monday, a Small Craft Advisory had been extended from morning until 4 p.m., citing waves 4 feet or higher and winds 25-37 mph and gusts of winds in the same range, the National Weather Service said. Anything beyond that would have elicited gale warnings.
Sarter's passengers, Donald Alan Slater, 59, of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and Randall Joseph Corsten, 50, of New Franken, Wis., were able to swim to the nearest shore, where they called 911 to report Sarter was missing.
The other two men were taken to a hospital by a private party, according to a news release from the city of Duluth.
Roen Salvage has no prior record with OSHA dating back to 1972.
The capsized boat was owned by Roen Salvage, which employed all three men. According to the company's website, Sarter was hired as a deckhand by Roen Steamship Co. in 1971 and moved to Roen Salvage Co. two years later. He had worked on more than 100 marine construction projects and was currently the company's head superintendent.
The company, which formed in 1949, has been involved in numerous projects in the Twin Ports.
Starting Monday and continuing throughout the week, the National Weather Service in Duluth has addressed marine traffic in its bad-weather alerts, referring mariners to specific marine forecasts and saying off and on that conditions could be hazardous to smaller vessels.
The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office also continues to investigate the incident.