Over 600 rescued from ferry aground on BI

The Washington State Ferry Walla Walla bound from Seattle to Bremerton ran aground in Rich Passage at about 4:30 p.m. near Lynwood on Bainbridge Island April 15.

There were 611 passengers and crew.

Initial indications were the vessel suffered a generator failure, but an official investigation will determine the cause.

Kori Abbott and her 7-year-old daughter were in their house on Pleasant Beach watching the ferry when they heard the horn blow.

“I heard it, and I went out on the porch and saw the ferry coming in. It was getting closer, and closer, and it was blowing the horns. Then I saw someone throw the anchor off the back,” Abbott said. “I saw that go in, and it was still moving. It was very eerie to see it getting closer and closer and closer and not stopping.”

At that point, Abbott said her instinct was to flee to safety. She grabbed her daughter and the family dog, ran toward the end of her property, and waited on Pleasant Beach Drive with neighbors.

“When we didn’t hear a huge crash, we went back,” Abbott said.

Pleasant Beach resident, Lucia Rosling Shaw, said a friend texted her while she was at work and told her there was a ferry on her beach, so she decided to leave early. When she arrived home, she saw fire trucks and cars in the driveway and realized something was actually going on at her house.

“I’m kind of surprised that it’s command central here. I came in, and the (caution) tape was already here, and there was a little police card at the back door saying, ‘we’re here.’ They’re definitely camped out here, and they say it’s going to be a while.

“They don’t think it’s going to be high tide enough until about 11:30 p.m. or 3:30 a.m. in the morning. But they’re hoping that they’ll be able to move it. The tugs will hopefully pull it out.”

Bainbridge Island fire chief Jared Moravec said fire crews were dispatched at 4:44 p.m. when they heard the ferry ran aground. “When we arrived, that’s exactly what we found. We were in direct communication with the captain of the boat and were able to quickly assess that there were no reported injuries from the ferry going aground. At that point, we were standing by to be able to assist in whatever way we could.”

Moravec said the primary objective was to get the passengers and crew ashore safely. “The captain determined that the safest way to get passengers ashore is transferring them over to a foot ferry.”

Lynwood Center was a hub of activity. The streets were lined with fire trucks, emergency vehicles and Kitsap Transit vans waiting to transport passengers to Bremerton while hundreds of people flocked to the beach to take photos.

Moravec said the reason for the county-wide response was because the department declared a level three multiple-casualty incident.

“The reason we did that is, if the foot ferry plan didn’t work, the alternative plan was we were going to be receiving passengers on the beach. So, we needed to make sure that we had all the resources we need to be able to receive passengers.”

Crews responded from North Kitsap, Central Kitsap and South Kitsap fire & rescue; and the Poulsbo and Bremerton fire departments. They operated under a unified command established between Bainbridge fire, BI police, the Coast Guard and the state ferries to coordinate all the efforts.

By 8:30 p.m., 243 passengers had been evacuated onto a Kitsap foot ferry en route to Bremerton.

Mark Freiboth, a Ferries deckhand at the Bainbridge terminal, went to the beach to see the grounded ferry. “Since I’ve been alive, this has only happened three or four times. This is a real rare occasion that I hoped never to see in person,” and he was happy to see that the crew’s response went well.

He said he sometimes worries about how people will respond when something happens on a ferry. “It was nice to see that everything went cordially, that all the people were working together. That the crew was deploying all the equipment properly, and the passengers looked like they were being really cooperative with the crew.”

As the sun faded and the spectators dissipated, Abbott said it was nice to see so many people on the beach. “I wish our beaches were open to the public. It was so fun to see people out on the beach. I want to make a sign, ‘Walker’s welcome.’”

At 10 p.m. state Ferries announced on Twitter that all Walla Walla passengers had been transported by KT to Bremerton and informed passengers to retrieve their cars at the Bremerton terminal at 9 a.m. April 16.

A crowd of curious people gathers on Pleasant Beach to see the Walla Walla ferry that ran aground during low tide.
Fire and rescue crews came from all over Kitsap County to help receive passengers if they came ashore on the beach. Instead, Kitsap foot ferries were used to shuttle passengers to Bremerton.
The first group of 243 passengers departs the Walla Walla on a foot ferry bound for Bremerton.
Kitsap Transit shuttles lined up in Lynwood in anticipation of taking passengers to Bremerton.