Investigation underway after Walla Walla ferry runs aground, leaving nearly 600 passengers stranded

Ferry passengers relived the moments the Walla Walla ferry lost power and ran aground in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island. Now, an investigation is underway.

Nearly 600 passengers and 15 crew members were stranded Saturday when the vessel lost power and all of its steering. The ferry had 596 passengers and 15 crew members on board. No one was hurt.

The Walla Walla was towed by a tugboat overnight to the Bremerton Ferry dock. But more than 24 hours later, people are still dealing with the aftermath of the travel mess.

The United States Coast Guard crews first responded in the afternoon. Initial indications were that the ferry suffered a generator failure, according to Washington State Ferries.

Drone 7 captured the Walla Walla in its temporary home, berthed at the Bremerton Ferry dock, out of service indefinitely, a day after a most memorable ferry ride.

“I was just like this is real,” exclaimed passenger Patty Kreemer. “This is not a drill.”

Kreemer recounted when the Captain delivered that message to the nearly 600 passengers on board Saturday afternoon during the Walla Walla’s 4:15 run to Seattle. He announced the vessel had lost power and its ability to steer. Then he urged them to brace for impact.

“And then we just kind of hit at like, once and not very hard,” Kreemer said. “And then a few seconds later it kind of hit. But it wasn’t like a big impact.”

The vessel remained aground for hours until the tide came back in, giving the vessel enough lift to be towed out by tug boats at about 12:45 Sunday morning.

Then in the light of a new day, divers began inspecting the Walla Walla’s hull.

“At this point in time, we’ll have it at the Bremerton dock while we complete the dive inspection,” said Donna Sanders, Washington State Ferries Operations. “And then start looking into the mechanical issue that caused the accident.”

The Walla Walla has run aground before. In fact, it happened almost to the day in April of 1981. The vessel has been rebuilt since then. What happened Saturday is eerily similar to the day nearly 42 years ago when the jumbo ferry ran aground. Then, there were more than 600 passengers, and all were evacuated safely.

Now both incidents are part of state history.

“So, yeah, something to live through,” said Patty Kreemer, “and glad it all worked out in the end.”

A lot of agencies made sure that was so.

In fact, a WSF official said after their work was done, the Vashon/Southworth crew stayed late to make sure passengers who needed a ferry ride from Seattle would be able to get home to Bremerton.

The Issaquah has been handling the Seattle to Bremerton run today and it has been running about 30 minutes late.

That should time out just right for us to get on board, too.