Man rescued after falling off Martha’s Vineyard ferry


Updated 4:30 pm, Friday

Quick action by the crew of the Steamship Authority (SSA) ferry Martha’s Vineyard Thursday evening saved Chris Connelly, 19, who fell from the upper deck as the vessel crossed Vineyard Sound in the dimming evening light.

A ferry crew immediately launched an inflatable boat and rescued Mr. Connelly from the water, in less than ten minutes. The vessel was one nautical mile west of West Chop, SSA port captain Greg Gifford told The Times Friday morning.

Mr. Connelly, a former resident of Martha’s Vineyard who now lives in Miller’s Fall, sustained facial injuries, according to the SSA. The boatline is speaking with State Police regarding possible criminal charges against Mr. Connelly.

“He was an extremely, extremely lucky individual,” Mr. Gifford said. “It was an excellent response by the entire crew. They were phenomenal. It just goes to show that training pays off. It was dark, it was just about 9 pm.”

The young man fell from the vessel’s scheduled trip from Oak Bluffs to Woods Hole, Mr. Gifford told The Times Friday.

Conditions were moderate. The tide was running east at about two knots, and winds were out of the southwest about 15.

Horseplay blamed

“We did have a report of a man who fell from the third deck of the M/V Martha’s Vineyard,” Petty Officer Third Class Myeonghi Clegg, a public affairs officer for U.S. Coast Guard First District in Boston, told The Times late Thursday night. “It’s unclear why he fell, whether it was horseplay or an accident. Within about ten minutes, he was retrieved by the ferry rescue boat.”

Ms. Clegg said the young man was transferred from the ferry rescue boat to a U.S. Coast Guard 45-foot response boat from Station Woods Hole that was on a training mission nearby and taken to Woods Hole, where an ambulance was waiting.

In addition to the patrol boat, the Coast Guard diverted a HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod that participating with the rescue boat on a training mission in the area to the scene.

Ms. Clegg said the man did not appear to have suffered serious injuries, but he was taken to the Falmouth Hospital as a precaution. She would not identify him.

In a follow-up conversation Friday morning, Ms. Clegg said there would be no followup investigation. “It just appears to be an accident caused by horseplay,” she said.

Quick action

Mr. Gifford said that he learned from the first crew reports that the man was part of a landscape crew from western Massachusetts returning to the mainland after working on the Vineyard. He was on the upper deck on the port side and was trying to jump up on a railing.

“They said, ‘Don’t do that, you’ll fall overboard’ and he did it anyways and he went overboard,” Mr. Gifford said.

A member of the crew on deck watch saw a passenger, one of the man’s friends, throw a ring buoy over the side. He immediately contacted the bridge and alerted Capt. Mike Mazza of West Tisbury, who was at the helm.

Mr. Gifford said he did not have complete details, but the normal procedure would be for the captain to take the vessel out of gear and swing the stern away from the side where the person fell overboard.

The crew sprang into action. Captain Mazza ordered the rescue boat to be launched. Pilot Jeremy McKnight, assisted by off duty pilot Paul Menton, went down to the lower deck and directed the launching of the boat with her two crewmen. They picked the man up in about seven minutes.

“I can’t say enough about the readiness of the crew,” Mr. Gifford said.

The details

A report SSA director of security Lawrence Ferreira prepared after reviewing video cameras describes the sequence of events beginning at 9:01 pm when Mr. Connelly joined a friend at the rail.

9 pm: Friend of Connelly walks to rail just forward of rescue boat. Wearing black shirt and tan pants and drinking from a cup.

9:02 pm: Connelly joins friend at the rail, and immediately elevates himself and bends over the rail. He is wearing a black shirt with sleeves cut off at the shoulders and black pants.

9:02:26 pm: Both apparently “toast” a passing vessel.

9:02:58 pm: Connelly moved about 8-10 feet forward, and is seen back to rail, apparently lifting himself up as if to sit on it.

9:03:06 pm: Connelly apparently fell backwards over the rail. His friend reacts to the spot immediately vacated by Connelly, looks over the rail, and then runs in the direction of the rescue boat.

9:04:37 pm: Rescue boat crew are seen assembling. Connolly’s friend is seen in the area holding his hands on his head.

9:09:14: Rescue boat is launched.

9:21:02 pm: Rescue boat is recovered to MV Martha’s Vineyard.

9: 23 pm: Vessel returns to course.