An unidentified woman was rescued by the Coast Guard after she reportedly jumped off the ferry to Bainbridge Island as the vessel was nearing Eagle Harbor Tuesday.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn said the woman who went overboard from the ferry M/V Wenatchee was in “good condition” after having jumped from the ferry during the 1:15 p.m. sailing from Seattle.
Donna Etchey, publisher of the Bainbridge Review, was on the Wenatchee during the incident. She said the vessel stopped just before it entered Eagle Harbor.
“We stopped. And then all of sudden we saw a crew going to the back,” Etchey said.
“At first, we thought it was a drill. Then a crewmember said, ‘Man overboard, can you please step back?’”
Other travelers on the boat saw the woman jump off the stern end of the Wenatchee into the waters of Puget Sound.
Etchey said two small boats were launched to look for the woman.
The Coast Guard sent several boats to assist in the search-and-rescue effort after being notified of the situation by the ferry crew, including a 25- and 45-foot Response Boat Crew as well as a Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Port Angeles.
Seattle Harbor Patrol Crews as well as teams from the Washington State Ferry vessels M/V Kitsap and M/V Tacoma assisted in the endeavor, but it was the Coast Guard crew of the 25-foot Response Boat who actually pulled the woman from the Puget Sound.
A passenger aboard the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton reportedly sighted the missing woman in the water.
Island resident and photography instructor Richard Malzahn was on the ferry coming home from work when the incident occurred.
“It seems to me that I’m never at the place when something happens,” he said. “And this time I was.”
Malzahn was sitting in his car when the initial announcements were made, but says that he did not know exactly what was going on at first.
“I got out of my car because it just seemed like it was taking way too long to get across the water,” he said. “There was a couple of announcements but I was down in the car deck and it’s kind of hard to hear what’s going on. Plus I had the windows up and I was reading. I could see that the boat was turning in a weird way.”
After getting out to investigate the delay, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong.
“It looked like we weren’t moving,” Malzahn said. “I started wandering around and then somebody said that somebody went over, so I grabbed my camera. I wanted to get something before they got the boats in the water.”
Malzahn teaches his students the importance of being ready with your camera at all times, and that a few seconds can make all the difference in a photo that tells a story. He immediately set about documenting the rescue efforts.
“I was glad I had it [the camera],” he said.
The ferry crews were already working with the Coast Guard in a joint search-and-rescue operation, and Malzahn remembered watching the crew prepare the inflatable boats.
“They sat there for quite a while before they put a boat in the water,” he remembered. “They did a great job, they were ready, but they were obviously waiting for more information. I thought that maybe they had thrown the life preserver over to maybe get a general idea of where it had happened.”
Malzahn estimates that the crew stood ready for approximately five to eight minutes before deploying the inflatable crafts.
“I talked to one of the crew members when they came back,” he said. “And he said that the other ferry had spotted the person and that the Coast Guard had actually picked them up.”
Discussing a possible scenario in which somebody might fall off a ferry, Malzahn remained uncertain.
“I had a discussion with a couple of people about how you’d really have to try and fall off the ferry,” he said.
Malzahn estimated he was on the ferry for approximately 90 minutes before eventually docking at the terminal on Bainbridge Island.