Man overboard on the M/V Wenatchee
31 minutes on Saturday evening, May 26, 2012 (Memorial Day Weekend).
PUGET SOUND - After a 9 p.m. "On Time Departure" from Seattle, the M/V Wenatchee was steaming across Puget Sound at 18.5 knots to Bainbridge Island. The wind was out of the Southwest at 15-20 knots and the seas were a choppy 2-3 feet. The sun had set and there was about 20 minutes of usable twilight left in the day. WSF’s Bainbridge "A" watch was aboard and had been on duty for about 6 hours of their 9 hour shift.
It should have been just another normal, uneventful crossing. We had moved thousands of passengers back and forth across the Sound for their Memorial Day festivities and were preparing for the last round-trip of the day. The Captain (Steve Hopkins) and the Mate (Dan Twohig) were sitting in the 2nd Mate’s office sharing a bag of popcorn as is their habit while discussing the day’s operations. They do this almost every night and the crew affectionately refers to it as ”the popcorn trip.”
At 9:15 p.m., about halfway through our transit, the conversation in the mate’s office was interrupted by two teenage girls who knocked on the door and said that a lady saw somebody jump off the ship and had told them to come down and find the crew and tell them. There was probably at least a minute between the time victim went over the side and when the report was made to the Captain and the Mate. At 18.5 knots, the ship was moving away from the person in the water at over 600 yards per minute.
Immediately, Mate Twohig announced “Man Overboard!!,” which was broadcast across the ship using the Public Address system and a radio call was made by Twohig to the operating pilothouse informing them of the emergency. Within about 10 seconds, the crew threw life rings over the side to mark the position where the incident was reported and establishing an origin point or “datum” for conducting the search for the person in the water. Also at this time, Captain Hopkins called the pilothouse and ordered “full astern” via the radio. In the operating wheelhouse, the pilot on watch (Vic Lotorto) initiated a “crash stop” fully reversing both propellers while pushing the Man Overboard button on the radar to insert a marker in the computer that creates an electronic “datum” for the search. The engines spooled up and the ship began to shudder as the propellers dug in and churned water in reverse.
Wenatchee’s deck crew, with assistance from the ship’s engineers, prepared the rescue boat for immediate launching while the cabin crew prepared the first aid response and conducted polite but firm crowd control over several hundred very interested passengers.
The Wenatchee’s radio calls on the company channel were overheard by the M/V Tacoma and M/V Yakima who immediately diverted from their scheduled runs to assist, both ships taking positions off the search area, preparing their rescue boats for launching, posting additional lookouts and waiting for direction from the Wenatchee’s Captain who was designated the “On Scene Commander. “
It takes about 60-70 seconds to completely stop a 460-foot, fully loaded Jumbo Mark II ferry when it is travelling at 18 plus knots. Once the vessel was stopped, the control of the ship was electronically transferred by Mate Lotorto to the opposite pilothouse now manned by the Captain of the ship. Lotorto and Quartermaster Randy Kesteren then hurried to the opposite (now operating) pilothouse to assist in bridge operations and provide additional lookouts.
Captain Hopkins estimated that the person in the water was probably just over a nautical mile behind Wenatchee and slightly up wind. He reversed the direction of the ship and proceeded back toward Seattle following the Wenatchee’s wake at about 12 knots and moving slightly upwind to compensate for current generated set and wind generated leeway. After several minutes, Captain Hopkins slowed Wenatchee to commence the search.
(Some rough video of all of this was caught by YouTube user DaLaMagna, and can be seen here:
Meanwhile, two Bainbridge Island doctors identified themselves to the mate along with a nurse, an EMT, a policeman and the Bainbridge Fire Chief. Mate Dan Twohig acknowledged their assistance and requested they stand by on the car deck at the boat station.
A short time later Mate Twohig was informed via the radio that there was a distraught gentleman with one of the cabin crew (Charles Vigil) who said the person overboard may be his wife. Dan turned command of the rescue boat operation over to engineer Greg Poor and hurried back upstairs to the main cabin.
At 9:25 p.m., Captain Hopkins brought the ship to a stop as the person in the water was spotted about 50 yards south of Wenatchee’s trackline and near some life rings that were thrown from the ship. The order was given to launch the rescue boat and Able Bodied Seaman/Bosun Karen Galegher and AB Charles Mares struck out for the sighting. Mate Twohig with the victim’s husband in tow hurried to the stern of the vessel. After arriving on the aft pickle fork, a little girl of about 8 years directed Twohig’s attention to the head bobbing in the water. Twohig then directed all the passengers on deck to all point at the person in the water while calling directions and distances on the radio to Bosun Karen Galegher driving the Rescue Boat.
Twohig: From the first moment I saw her, I noted that the woman in the water was barely afloat. She was just a head with her legs hanging below her and her right arm lazily or weakly moving over her head indicating that she may be still alive. The rescue boat was working its way through a choppy 2-3 foot sea and headed in the general direction of the person in the water. I called out directions and distances over the radio until the boat was about 10 yards from the victim and it was obvious to me that they had seen her.
Galegher: I maneuvered the rescue boat alongside the person in the water and then we slipped the rescue collar around her. I told Chuck, “On three…” One, Two, Three and we pulled her backwards into the rescue boat, the victim landing on top of him in the bow. He cradled her in his arms as I brought the boat back along the lee side of the ship to be recovered.
Twohig: Once the victim was aboard the rescue boat, the husband and I headed back down to the car deck. We arrived at the boat station as the rescue boat came along side. I handed to the husband off to the policeman standing by and ascertained that the boat recovery operation was proceeding safely under the direction of Engineer Greg Poor.
As the boat was raised from the water, the weight of two people far up in the bow caused it to pitch forward dangerously (bow down at about a 35-40 degree angle). In order to get the boat back aboard, Seaman Ari Landrum put his weight on the stern of the boat while Mate Twohig and engineer Martin Wakefield lifted the bow of the boat over the sill and allowed her to set down in the cradle. It was 9:34 p.m. (nine minutes after she was launched). The victim was then gently removed from the rescue boat and carried to the triage area just outside the boat station.
Aside from the trauma of a 40 foot plunge from the upper observation deck, the water of Puget Sound was reported to be 50 degrees that night. In 50 degree water, a person not wearing any protective clothing will lose dexterity in less than 5 minutes. Even a strong swimmer may lose consciousness and drown after 15 minutes. Our best guess is that this victim had been in the water for about 15 minutes. This was a seriously hypothermic person in need of immediate medical attention.
Once she was brought aboard and laid upon the receiving blankets, female crewmembers Linda Barnett and Kimberly Barry provided a “screen” in the form of a blanket raised up to help protect the victim’s privacy from the crowd as we cut her wet clothing from her body preparing to resuscitate her and provide treatment for hypothermia. The ship’s Automatic Electronic Defibrillator (AED) was deployed to monitor her heart rhythms and she was wrapped in blankets, her vital signs and core temperature were monitored and the available medical crews resuscitated and prepared her for transport.
The attending doctor directed that the victim be transported from Bainbridge Island via Life-Flight helicopter to Harborview Medical Center while the Bainbridge Island Fire Chief directed his assets to be on the dock in Winslow when the Wenatchee arrived.
Mate Twohig directed seaman Ari Landrum to get the ship’s rescue stretcher from its storage place and he (Landrum) and AB Mueller then lined the basket with blankets and hot-packs in preparation to receive the victim and mover her to the bow of the vessel. As the ship approached the Bainbridge dock, the victim was transferred to the litter, and six volunteers carried her over the ship’s upper car deck ramps (avoiding the vehicles in the tunnel) to the front of the ship then walking her off the car ramp to the waiting Bainbridge Island Fire Department Medic Unit. Wenatchee nosed into the dock at 9:46 p.m.
About a minute after ship touched the dock, the Bainbridge Fire Department Ambulance was loaded and proceeding up through the terminal to meet the helicopter. As the crew walked back down the ramp preparing to unload the ship, they were greeted by the sound of hundreds of passengers cheering their performance in this successful rescue.
They say that in an emergency, time stands still. The time from the first report that a person had gone overboard until the ship stopped and travelled back a mile, the crew had found her, launched a boat to rescue her, recovered the boat, resuscitated the victim and transferred her to the ambulance on Bainbridge Island was all of just 31 minutes. By the time the Life-Flight helicopter passed overhead on its way to Harborview Trauma Center, the ship was loaded with a new group of passengers and headed back across Puget Sound to Seattle. The M/V Wenatchee was back on the route, and would shortly be back on schedule. A life was saved; it was time to get back to work.