Alaska News

Man guided by GPS drives off ferry into Whittier harbor

Taking bad advice from the GPS unit in his car, a man drove into Whittier's small-boat harbor Thursday morning just after departing a ferry nearby.

The man, who was not named, was apparently relocating to Alaska from the Lower 48 and arrived on a ferry about 6:30 a.m., said Dave Schofield, director of the city's Department of Public Safety. The man drove off the ferry in his Subaru car loaded with belongings, two dogs and a cat, Schofield said.

He didn't make it far.

About 400 feet from the ferry dock, a GPS unit in the man's car told him to take a hard right turn, Schofield said.

"The GPS apparently misrouted him, and he drove down the ramp for launching boats into the water," Schofield said. "He was unfamiliar with the area is the only answer I have for you."

The car made it all the way down the launch, where boaters back their vessels down a ramp into the water.

A short distance from the boat launch, Lazy Otter cafe manager Elizabeth Dernbach was opening up shop, hoping for coffee-hunting customers getting off the ferry.

"Somebody came in and told me to call 911. I looked over and there was a car in the water, in the harbor, and it was sinking," Dernbach said.

The car was soon fully submerged, Dernbach said. Another man just off the ferry jumped in the water, smashed open a window with a hammer or some other tool and helped the driver out. Two dogs escaped as well, she said.

"I couldn't see the top of the car at all. It was under water a couple feet, at least, and as the tide went down, you still couldn't see the car," Dernbach said.

Schofield said a cat inside a pet carrier drowned. When Schofield arrived, the man and his dogs were out of the water.

"He was already extracted and in the ferry building, in the bathroom. Shaken up, which would be normal given the circumstances," Schofield said.

According to the National Weather Service, there was no fog at the time. There was light rain, a cloud ceiling of 1,800 feet and visibility of 7 miles.

With a diver's help, a local towing company pulled the car out of the water, Schofield said. No charges were filed.

"It's unusual," he said. "It was a first for us."

Dernbach said the early morning darkness and rain could have affected the driver's ability to see the roadway.

"I still don't really know how he drove in there," she said.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.


Anchorage Daily News