Map-tracking system shows Cathlamet Ferry 'off course' around time of collision

Map-tracking systems are shedding more light on the path the Cathlamet Ferry took before crashing into a group of pilings as it approached the Fauntleroy ferry dock on Thursday.   

One system shows that the ferry was moving well south of the boat's typical routes when it experienced what Washington State Ferries described as a "hard landing." 

A WSF spokesperson confirmed Friday that the ferry was "off course" and going "too fast" when it collided with the section of posts often called a "dolphin."   

Regulars on the ferry made similar observations while on the boat Thursday, telling FOX 13 that the ferry had appeared to drift off its normal track before the crash. 

"It was just a big crash and kind of shook the truck a little bit," said Jeremy, a regular rider on the Cathlamet Ferry.  

He was one of the passengers on board the Cathlamet Ferry when it hit the posts Thursday. 

"There was a split second there when it started to crumple in the front. I thought maybe this is [it], maybe we are going down," he said. 

Jeremy has been riding for about 30 years and had returned once again to get back on the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal route Friday when we talked with him. 

"It’s not the first time they have actually brushed a pylon out there. It’s the hardest they have ever hit one," said Jeremy. 

A ship-tracking map showed the Cathlamet Ferry come in from the south, accelerating from around 4 knots to around 12 knots around the time it likely hit the dolphin posts. Then, the map showed it making a turn towards the shore before reversing course and heading into the dock.  

"It’s the most offshore dolphin that took the hit," said Ian Sterling with Washington State Ferries. "It would be a few hundred feet, about 200- 300 feet offshore there."  

'Hard landing': Ferry crash causes damage to vessel, Fauntleroy Terminal structure

A ferry and a structure at the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal in West Seattle were damaged Thursday morning after a crash at the dock. 

On Friday, Sterling said, "It was way off course and going way too fast for what it was."  

He said the ferry also didn't go to the inside of the landing, where the bumpers would be placed on the pilings to protect the ship.  Instead, he said the ship hit the outside of the "dolphin" where there was nothing to buffer the boat.  The posts then sliced open a portion of the ship like a tin can.   

"It hit the offshore pilings, kind of on the outside of the pilings which is not normal, and it did it at speed," said Sterling. 

We spoke to a retired captain who once worked for Washington State Ferries about the tracking map.  He said that the speed that was indicated on the map, 12 knots at one point, was very unusual. 

"Normally by that point in time, you’d want to be down 6 knots, maybe 8. If the wind is blowing really hard, if the current is setting pretty hard, " said Mike Schilling, a retired Washington State Ferries captain. 

He says the investigation into what happened on the ship will be important in figuring out the cause of the crash.   

"I saw a still shot of the vessel alongside the dolphin, which is not where the vessel should be at all.  The ‘why’ of how it got there will have to be answered by the Coast Guard Investigation," said Schilling.  

Sterling has said that the investigation into what went wrong could take weeks to months.  The results for the drug and alcohol tests on the crew members were not back Friday afternoon.  

"We are not sure there, is no smoking gun what happened here, as far as mechanical failure or anything like that," said Sterling. "I can tell you that all the crew, as standard procedure, will be drug and alcohol tested and have already been. That’s already been done. We are awaiting results there, and we are working with our federal partners and others to really investigate what happened here. We want to know, so it doesn’t happen again."  

Riders said Friday morning there were delays on the route.  Sterling says Washington State Ferries brought in the Kitsap Ferry to replace the damaged Chathlamet Ferry.  Unfortunately, he said the Kitsap had some electrical issues Friday morning with steering control.  He said a team had fixed that by Friday afternoon, and it was back in service.