Seven passengers hospitalized after water taxi slams into Seattle pier

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating what caused a water taxi to plow into a Seattle seawall. Seven passengers were taken to the hospital after the crash, and others suffered minor injuries.

Damage to the 77-foot King County Water Taxi Rachel Marie was extensive in the Sept. 26, 2010, accident. The catamaran slammed into the Washington Street Public Boat Landing Facility at Pier 50 shortly before noon with nearly 80 passengers and crew.

The ferry was approaching the dock for a scheduled stop at between 4 and 6 knots when the captain realized it was in trouble, the Coast Guard said. He warned the passengers, backed down the engines and tried to perform an emergency stop.

Authorities did not release any information about the extent of the injuries. The captain’s warning to brace for impact likely prevented additional injuries, said King County Department of Transportation spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok. The vessel sustained almost $250,000 in damage, she said.

“The bow needed extensive repair; we had broken windows and some benches and chairs needed to be replaced or repaired,†Ogershok said. “There are some rubber mounts that the actual passenger cabin sits on that were damaged, and some work needs to be done to the forward door.â€

The Coast Guard in late November said it was still investigating the cause.

“It’s the top priority in the office right now,†said Lt. Jon Lane, assistant chief of the Investigation Division at Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. “We’re still in the process of examining systems on the vessel, particularly the throttle control, engine management and steering systems. We’re still digging into those.â€

Passengers and crewmembers remained onboard for an hour and a half as rescue crews arrived to treat the wounded and begin investigating the crash. Two 41-foot utility boat crews responded from Coast Guard Station Seattle, along with the Seattle Fire Department and Seattle Police Harbor Patrol.

Off-duty Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Mehs saw the crash and dove into the water. Mehs, who is stationed aboard the cutter Mellon, swam to the vessel and administered first aid to the injured.

Crewmembers were required to take drug and alcohol tests following the accident. Both Lane and Ogershok confirmed that the captain’s tests were negative.

Lane would not comment further on the ongoing investigation. “We have some hypotheses that we’re trying to validate still,†he said.

Rachel Marie was in dry dock for annual maintenance until just a few days before the accident and passed a Coast Guard inspection following the work. According to the King County Department of Transportation, it was the third such inspection since March. The ferry was involved in a minor incident last June.

In late November, the damaged ferry was dry docked at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island, Wash., where it was built in 1988. Repairs were to be completed by the end of the year.

Chris Bernard

By Professional Mariner Staff