Update, 4 p.m. Thursday, July 28, as per Washington State Ferries:
Fauntleroy Terminal Re-opens — Cathlamet is cleared to be moved and it has pulled away from the Fauntleroy dock. It will make crew-move stops at Vashon and Southworth before heading to WSF’s Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility. With the Cathlamet moved, and the terminal infrastructure cleared for safe service, we will immediately restore service to Fauntleroy. Initially, this will be one-boat service with the Issaquah making all-stops on the route. Kitsap is on the way to Vashon and when it arrives, we’ll reset the two-boat schedule for the afternoon and evening.
Note: This following story was contiuously updated through 5:10 p.m. on Thursday, July 28.
The Cathlamet, one of the two Washington State Ferries (WSF) currently serving Vashon’s north end routes, crashed this morning into protective pilings, known as a dolphin, near Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, on its 7:55 a.m. run from Vashon, causing extensive damage to the boat and leaving at least one car pinned by the crumpled top left part of the boat.
No one was seriously injured in the crash, according to WSF.
After the crash, the boat was able to dock at Fauntleroy, and vehicles on the boat were able to depart, including a Vashon Island Fire District aid car which was on the boat and in the midst of transporting an island patient to a Seattle hospital. The Vashon firefighter/EMT crew joined ferry workers in checking in with passengers after the crash, to make sure everyone aboard was safe.
According to Vashon Fire Chief Matt Vinci, first responders were then able to drive off the boat and to safely transport the patient to the hospital, and the crew eventually made it back to Vashon — but had to come home the long way.
At a press conference held mid-afternoon by Washington State Ferries at the Faunteroy dock, officials on the podium including Patty Rubstello, head of the ferry system, and Amy Scarton, deputy secretary at Washington State Department of Transportation. The press conference was not live-streamed or synopsized in a press release.
Ian Sterling, spokesman from WSF, detailed the officials’ statements at the presser in an interview with The Beachcomber.
An investigation of the accident, led by the Coast Guard, was now underway, he said, adding that no obvious mechanical failure that would have caused the crash had been found.
The entire crew of the ferry has been drug and alcohol tested, he said, as was standard protocol following an incident of this kind. The crew had all been released for the day, with the captain already scheduled for a leave of several additional days. This leave, Sterling said, had already been previously scheduled and was not an administrative leave.
Detailing the damage to the boat, Sterling said the ferry sustained the worst damage he had seen in his years of working for WSF.
“We’re very fortunate that no one was hurt,” he said.
WSF has a strong safety record, he said, with no passengers being killed in accidents since WSF’s founding in 1951.
He said the investigation would be thorough, and that the National Transportation Safety Board had been notified of the accident.
“When something like this happens, we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Following the press conference, The Seattle Times reported that ferry official at the event had said that the dock could reopen for service this afternoon.
Numerous islanders were on the scary morning commute.
Pam Kirkpatrick, an islander who was a passenger on the ferry, said that the boat came into Fauntleroy fast, to the right of the dolphins through which the boat usually passes before docking. But, instead of passing between the dolphins, the boat was headed toward sailboats docked just south of the Fauntleroy dock.
“I thought we were going to land on the beach,” she said.
She said she believed the ferry crew prevented the beaching of the boat by throwing it from full forward into full reverse, causing the smell of smoke to fill the ferry. She also said she saw concrete in the water, which she believed was due to the damage sustained to the dolphin’s pilings by the force of the crash.
Islander Phaedra Powell-Zecher, who said she was sitting outside on the ferry in the middle covered area at the front of the boat, detailed her experience.
“It felt strange because the ferry was going normal speed and didn’t slow down,” she said. “I watched the left side of the passenger deck ram into the dolphin at normal speed.”
Powell-Zecher said that she, too, had thought the boat would run aground, and that she had observed another passenger, who was outside on the front left part of the passenger deck, running back to safety after the collision had caused steel on the outside deck to give way.
Immediately after the crash, WSF posted an alert saying that Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal was out of service until further notice following a “hard landing” by the Cathlamet.
Ferries additionally alerted that there would be no midday tie-up of the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route, in order to assist with service during this time.
King County’s Vashon Water Taxi, which provides commuter runs from downtown Seattle’s Pier 50, added an afternoon sailing on Thursday in response to interruptions in service caused by the crash Washington State Ferry’s Cathlame at Faunteroy Ferry Dock today.
The water taxi, the MV Sally Fox, added an additional run from downtown at Pier 50 to Vashon at 3:30 p.m. Thursday to go with its regular sailings at 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
On Thursday, the Sally Fox departed the Vashon dock back to Seattle with an added sailing at 3:58 p.m., and regular sailings at 4:58 p.m., 5:58 p.m. and 6:58 p.m.
The accident will likely have some lasting repurcussions for Vashon, where WSF has continued to operate a reduced “two-boat” system despite restorations to full service in recent months to other routes.
According to KIRO-7, the Vashon Island School District (VISD), which has a significate number of students who commute from the mainland to attend public school on the island, alerted parents they were aware of the situation and encouraged all VISD commuter families to look out for more information related to the start of the school year, including updates on ferries throughout the month of August.
The Cathlamet, a 328-foot boat built in 1981 and rebuilt in 1993, has a capacity of 124 cars and 1,200 passengers.
On June 1, 2007, while sailing between Clinton (on Whidbey Island) to Mukilteo, the ferry crashed into the Mukilteo dock at over seven knots, causing $139,000 damage to the ferry and more than $1 million in terminal repairs, according to news sources at the time.
The captain of the ferry was subsequently fired for “grossly negligent actions” that resulted in the accident.
The Beachcomber will continue to update this story.