By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
On June 12, 2012, Kyle Robert Hardman, of Barbourville, helped save three adults and two young children from drowning in the Mississippi River near St. Louis.
Hardman died in the rescue attempt.
He was 55 years old at the time.
Those who worked with him, and who also knew him, said Hardman’s efforts were heroic.
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission agreed, and Wednesday named Hardman as one of 22 persons who will receive the Carnegie Medal for 2014.
Named after industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the medal is given to those persons in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree, while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.
Along with Hardman, four other heroes named medal recipients this year also died.
“He was absolutely selfless, and had the biggest heart of anyone you’d ever know. He really did a wonderful, noble thing. We miss him a lot,” said Hardman’s mother, Natalie Foucault in a phone interview Wednesday from her home in Ukiah, California.
Walter Rutkowski, the President of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, commented in a phone interview from Pittsburgh, “Our award is given to those who leave a point of safety, and his being on the tugboat was a point of safety. Hardman risked his life to an extraordinary degree to save or attempt to save the lives of others. The Zodiac that they used is a sturdy boat, but the conditions at the head of the barges where the stranded boaters were located was very risky. Hardman lost his life in the process.”
“We’ve known Kyle for a long time, since he was born. He would visit us whenever he could. He was very, very sweet and kind. He had a big heart and would do anything for anybody, and never had a bad word to say about anybody. Our children were very close to Kyle, like brothers and sisters. We loved him very much,” Pat Barbour of Corbin noted Wednesday.
Both she and her husband Albert were friends with Hardman and his mother.
Hardman worked for Inland Marine Services of Hebron, in northern Kentucky. He was a deckhand on a towboat, the “Richard A. Baker.” It was out on the Mississippi River when a motorboat on the river became disabled.
The boat was pulled by a swift current to a stationary fleet of barges, where it struck one of the barges and became lodged against it.
The “Richard A. Baker” and its crew were alerted to the situation and came to the aid of the stranded motorboat. Hardman and fellow deckhand Jarvise Shelton of Villa Ridge, Illinois were ready for action.
The two launched their boat’s rigid-inflatable emergency vessel — called a “Zodiac” — and took it to a point near the motorboat.
Five persons were aboard the motorboat. One was Hanh Nguyen, 33 years of age. Two other men were on the boat, as well as the two children.
While Shelton maneuvered the rescue boat, Hardman threw the free end of a line toward the stranded victims.
It didn’t work out.
Although Shelton worked to control the rescue boat, the river’s current pushed the boat against the barges, and it capsized.
Both Hardman and Shelton were thrown into the river. Shelton was able to climb atop the capsized rescue boat.
Hardman was pulled beneath the barges and swept downstream.
He surfaced, inert. Motionless. Lacking the strength or ability to move.
Both Hardman and Shelton were taken aboard by crew members of an arriving tugboat, before that boat went onto the barges to assist in the rescue of Nguyen and the four other persons on the motorboat.
Shelton, and the five in the disabled boat, were not injured.
Crew members tried to revive Hardman, but he had drowned.
In addition to Hardman, Shelton was also named to receive a Carnegie Medal.
“It was not a surprise to me when the captain of the boat said for Jarvise Shelton and a younger man to go, but my son told the younger man, ‘No, you stay, you have a family. I’ll go.’ He was a gentle soul, and it didn’t surprise us that he wanted to take the place of the young man, because he was young and had a family. Kyle didn’t have children,” said Foucault.
Barbour pointed out, “He was very unselfish, and we weren’t surprised when he volunteered to take the younger man’s place to save those lives. He sacrificed his life for others. That was the kind of person he was. I felt very proud when he got the Carnegie medal. It was a bittersweet feeling, because we were proud, but very sad for the way he got it.”
“He saved them, but it cost him his life in the process. For what he did, he deserved the medal,” Larry Hickerson, who handled the arrangements for Hardman’s funeral in 2012, said Wednesday.
Carnegie Commission Chair Mark Laskow stated in a news release Wednesday that each of the awardees or their survivors would receive a grant, in addition to the medal. The 22 persons who received Carnegie Medals Wednesday bring to 9,675 the total number of awards made since the Hero Fund’s beginning in 1904.
Last July, Hardman also received from the U. S. Coast Guard the Medal of Valor, the highest medal awarded to a civilian.
Foucault added, “He was the first one to receive it for working along the nation’s inland waterways. The Coast Guard was kind enough to come to Ukiah and get in touch with the mayor, and they had a celebration of life here at the Ukiah Civic Center and presented the medal.”
Barbourville man posthumously awarded for his 2012 heroics
By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
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