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May 11, 2004

Alaska ferry grounded

One hundred and nine passengers and crew were evacuated by lifeboat and passing vessels after the Alaska Marine Highway vessel LeConte ran hard aground on Cozian Reef in Peril Straits at approximately 9:55 a.m. yesterday. The LeConte was enroute from Angoon to Sitka. Two forward spaces on the port side flooded and the ship was reported to be listing at 10 degrees.

According to an initial release from Alaska Marine Highway, the port side solid waste hold and bow thruster flooded. There was no spillage to report.

This morning, the Juneau Empire reported that the impact ripped a 30-foot-long gash in the ferry's side, divers discovered Monday night. The gash was about a foot across, ferry administrators told the newspaper.

The newspaper quotes Nona Wilson of the Alaska Department of Transportation as saying divers emerged from the water "shaking their heads in disbelief" after discovering the 30-foot gash.

In what Wilson said would be a multi-day effort--"more than one day, less than 100"-- crews hope to drain the holds after sealing the holes well enough to tow the ferry to Sitka, reports the Juneau Empire.

"If it's not done right, this is a very delicate situation," Wilson said.

The size of the hole will make on-the-scene repairs difficult and expensive, she said. Salvage experts were due to arrive from Seattle today.

The LeConte was built in 1974 and is capable of carrying 250 passengers. The vessel is 235 ft in length and can accommodate up to 34 vehicles.

Coast Guard helicopter crews from Sitka, along with the Cutters Maple and Anacapa, assisted, along with what the Coast Guard described as "a variety of Good Samaritans including tugboat crews and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel John Cobb."

The 86 passengers and non-essential crewmembers from the ferry were safely transferred to two Allen Marine catamarans, the St. Eugene and the St. Tatiana.

Two passengers were medevaced from the vessel with a possible back injury to Sitka via Coast Guard helicopter.

One Coast Guard helicopter crew transported a special team from Cutter Maple to deploy aboard the Leconte and initiate immediate repairs.

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