Weeks after running aground, the Walla Walla ferry returns to service

Weeks after the Walla Walla ferry lost power and ran aground, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced the ferry has returned to service.

On Apr. 15, nearly 600 passengers and 15 crew were stranded when the vessel lost power and all of its steering.

No one was hurt.

According to an investigation by the United States Coast Guard, it was determined the ferry lost power due to contaminated fuel which led to a generator failure - including backup systems - which resulted in the loss of propulsion and steering controls.

WSDOT says it is currently unknown how the fuel was contaminated. All fuel currently on board has tested clean and new monitoring gauges have been installed.

After the ferry grounded, a tugboat towed the vessel to the Bremerton ferry dock, where United States Coast Guard crews responded to investigate.

“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 that 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 the next 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 Apr. 15 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.