SEATTLE -- The jumbo ferry Walla Walla went aground near Bainbridge Island Thursday and more than 600 commuters gingerly transferred from the listing vessel to a barge and two tour boats.
There were no reported serious injuries, but the passengers were forced to leave their vehicles -- 172 cars and light pickup trucks -- aboard the ferry.
Passenger evacuation was ordered after the 440-foot, white and green-trimmed boat began a 10-15 degree list as the tide went out shortly after 9 a.m., said a Coast Guard spokesman.
The Walla Walla was firmly wedged onto a mud bar and was not pulled free by tugboats until it became high tide Thursday evening about 11 hours later.
Following a brief open-water test to determine if there was any damage, the ferry steamed back to the Eagle Harbor terminal at Winslow.
Byron Sprague, customer services manager for the Washington State Ferry System, said the cars became available to the owners at the terminal's holding area by about 7:30 p.m. PST.
Heavy fog swirled around the ferry, bound for Seattle out of Winslow, when it went aground at 7:50 a.m.
It 'went on real easy,' said passenger Bill Dow, a manufacturer's representative with an office in Seattle. 'We tried to back off, but it (the ferry) went on too swiftly. It was just no use.'
'It was full reverse all of a sudden, and that caused a lot of concern,' said Sam Lord, who was commuting to his job at a bank.
The fog later lifted and two tug boats unsuccessfully attempted to pull the Walla Walla free. Officials said they would wait for high tide, expected to peak roughly 12 hours later, at about 8:30 p.m.
The ferry system chartered two Harbor Tours vessels and hired the Foss Launch & Tug Co. to maneuver a barge alongside the listing Walla Walla at about 10:15 a.m. Within less than 20 minutes, the passengers calmly walked from the ferry to the waiting barge and the two tour boats.