EDITOR’S NOTE: Certain names have been removed from this story to protect the privacy of individuals involved. (Oct. 2, 2022)
SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – A passenger on the fateful San Francisco Bay Ferry ride last month when someone jumped overboard told KRON4 News the ferry operator’s response “disturbed me.”
The passenger, a 47-year-old Oakland resident who requested not to be identified, said she was left in charge of the emergency response because nobody from the ferry came up to explain to passengers what to do after they saw a man jumping from the boat into the bay on Aug. 14.
The passenger said she instinctually took over because she used to work in a hospital emergency room. She was on the ferry with her children.
“What shocked me is no one from the staff came up to the deck where he just jumped from and took over the emergency response from civilians,” the passenger said. “He stepped on to the bench next to my daughter and jumped and started to swim. It wasn’t an accident. It looked like he could swim and I said ‘someone tell the captain ‘man overboard.'”
As traffic returns to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels and Bay Area Rapid Transit experiences systemic issues, particularly with hot weather, local officials have been touting the ferries as as an alternative way to travel around the Bay Area. But the ferry passenger who witnessed the incident said that the response of the operator to the jumping raises serious questions.
She called 911 after the man jumped. People were wondering “are we supposed to jump in to help the guy or do we just let him be?”
The ferry turned around, the passenger said, but according to her account “no staff threw in the ring.”
“We threw that in,” she said.
The passenger later became more upset when there was no outreach from the ferry to the passengers, either at the time or afterward, about the “traumatic event” they’d experienced, and said she had to pay for her own transportation home after the ferry docked at Alameda.
“My daughter witnessed a death,” she said. “There was no organizational follow-up. It was really surprising to me. … They could have sent an email ‘we’re so sorry you had to experience this.'”
Water Emergency Transportation Authority spokesperson Thomas Hall defended the San Francisco Bay Ferry’s response.
“The crew was notified by witnesses and the captain, per protocol, immediately turned the vessel around to initiate rescue procedures,” he stated in an email to KRON4. “Crew members followed procedures and threw a life ring to the person overboard. The crew also prepared to deploy the “man overboard cradle” from the bow of the ferry. The captain immediately contacted the U.S. Coast Guard and the ferry crew remained on scene until local authorities arrived. The captain then docked at the Main Street Alameda Ferry Terminal and offloaded passengers while the crew assisted the investigation.”
When asked if anyone came to the deck to reassure or direct passengers, if anyone followed-up with them, and why no alternative form of transportation was offered home, Hall reiterated that “The procedure for ‘person overboard’ incidents is to immediately inform U.S. Coast Guard via radio and to initiate rescue efforts. This is what the crew did.”
“Once the crew initiated rescue procedures, all attention was focused on attempting to rescue the person overboard,” Hall stated. “After docking in Alameda and safely escorting passengers off of the ferry, the crew was required to remain on site to participate in the U.S. Coast Guard investigation. Ferry service in the Estuary was suspended in the initial stages of Alameda Fire Department’s search and rescue effort. There was no way to transport those passengers from Alameda to Oakland. Of course, we are deeply apologetic for the impact this had on our passengers.”
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When pressed that this didn’t answer the first two questions, Hall stated the crew was too busy following procedures to communicate with the passengers.
“Rescue operations take place at the bow (front) of the ferry on the main deck,” Hall stated. “Once informed of a person overboard, the crews rushed into position for the rescue as the captain turned the ferry around so that the bow was near the person overboard (while alerting the Coast Guard). This all happened swiftly and according to procedure. Sending a member of the crew to instead communicate with passengers at this critical time would not have been consistent with rescue procedures and would have compromised their ability to respond effectively. In this situation, the crew’s priority is to rescue the person overboard, alert first responders, and cooperate with those first responders as their work proceeds. Thankfully, this is an exceedingly rare occurrence, and we sympathize with the impact and inconvenience that it had on our passengers.”
The passenger who witnessed the incident told KRON4 that those responses were “much more informative” than what the ferry system told her.
“These organizations need a better plan to follow up and address this,” she stated to KRON4. “Interesting that all their efforts were on rescuing the person but no one jumped in to rescue or did anything that we could tell other than turning [the] boat around.”
The search for the man who’d jumped from the ferry was called off around 1 a.m. Aug. 15, KRON4 reported at the time, without anyone having been found, according to the United States Coast Guard, which did not reply to a request for comment for this report.
The Alameda County Coroner’s Office was unable to verify the identity of the man who’d jumped.
“If the body wasn’t found, we don’t have a record of it,” a spokesperson said.