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UPDATE | Woman rescued after going overboard from Bainbridge ferry
A woman was rescued from the frigid waters of Puget Sound after she went overboard during a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island on Saturday night.
“It’s a testimony of the skill of our crews,” said David Moseley, director of Washington State Ferries.
“They train for these kinds of things, and thankfully we don’t have to use them often, but it is not overstatement to say that they saved this woman’s life,” he said.
The woman fell or jumped from the upper deck of the M/V Wenatchee during the 9 p.m. sailing May 26 as the ship was traveling from Seattle to Bainbridge Island.
After witnessing the incident, a passenger quickly contacted the ferry crew and reported seeing the woman jumping from the ferry, Moseley said.
Dr. Robin Houck was on board with his wife, who is also a doctor.
“We had dinner in Seattle and enjoying the fact we had a babysitter for the night, and we were on our way back,” Houck said.
But the couple’s quiet evening would soon be interrupted.
“We were on the upper deck when a woman burst through the doors saying she saw a someone jump off the side,” Houck said.
Bainbridge Island Fire Marshal Luke Carpenter was also onboard the Wenatchee when the incident occurred.
“I saw a bunch of people get up and look out the window,” Carpenter said. “And they saw this person fall past the window.”
Passengers soon heard a “man overboard” call over the vessel’s loudspeakers and some passengers thought it was a drill.
However, a second “man overboard” call soon followed, along with the warning, “This is not a drill, port side.”
“It was a good three or four minutes before the alarm was sounded so we went quite a distance,” Houck said. “Then the boat slowed down.”
The ferry halted in the water and immediately began to reverse its course and the rescue boat was prepped by the Wenatchee crew.
Ferry riders also took part in the search effort, Moseley said.
“The customers on the boat were very engaged in trying to spot the woman and trying to be of assistance,” Moseley said.
Houck and his wife were among the passengers peering into the water. He said the port side of the ferry was lined with passengers searching for the woman.
“Then someone said they saw her and then we all saw her,” Houck said. “She was about 50 feet off the port side. She was barely moving.”
When passengers and crews spotted the woman, life rings were thrown to her, but she did not reach for them.
Given the temperature of the water, Houck said that didn’t surprise him.
“After about five minutes most people start losing dexterity and can’t swim as well as they normally would,” Houck said. “Most people lose consciousness from hypothermia. She was close to that.”
“The fact that she was able to be spotted was the only reason she is alive,” he added.
A rescue boat was launched with two crew members, who managed to reach the woman and pull her aboard.
Carpenter estimated the woman was in the water 10 minutes.
She was brought to the car deck on the Wenatchee, where she received first aid.
“My wife and I went looking for the ferry crew and identified ourselves as physicians,” Houck said. The couple was brought to the car deck to help.
“She was barely conscious,” Houck said. “She started speaking after a couple minutes. She complained of chest pain.”
Houck and his wife began checking her pulse and blood pressure while trying to warm her and raise her body temperature.
Knowing that his fire department would be responding, Carpenter went down to the scene on the car deck and helped the aid car communicate with the ferry crew and Houck.
“There were a couple of doctors and the crew taking care of her,” Carpenter said. “I called the paramedic and gave him a chance to talk with (Houck).”
When the ferry docked at Bainbridge Island, the aid car was waiting at the terminal and the rescued woman was the first person off the boat. She was then taken to the fire department’s headquarters, where she was loaded onto a helicopter and airlifted to a hospital in Seattle.
Carpenter said that he was impressed with the performance of the crew, and Houck agreed.
“The crew was just crisp,” Houck said. “Crowd control was firm but courteous and well-orchestrated. It was a drill with precision. I was very impressed that they had the kind of composure that they did.”
Houck noted that it can be difficult to act efficiently in a life-and-death situation.
“It’s easy to freak out,” he said. “I see life and death every day, but it’s not common that you find yourself in an emergency situation. (The crew) pulled it together and executed everything really well.”