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Sunday, April 18, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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What's Funny

Ferry Disaster: 60 Missing

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND - At least 60 people are missing today after the largest state ferry disaster on record.

Commuters waiting for the 7:10 ferry this morning heard an erroneous last call at 7:01, causing hundreds to break into a sprint. In the ensuing rush, approximately 60 of the fastest commuters plunged off the walk-on ramp into the frigid waters of Eagle Harbor.

Counts at this time are approximate, based on eyewitness reports and the number of yellow commuter comfort cups found washed up on shore. The espresso spill was reputed to be the largest spill of morning beverage since an event in Boston Harbor more than 200 years ago.

Counts of the expected floating briefcases have been ruled out since it appears that no one let go.

Several factors contributed to the magnitude of the event. First, Mondays are the busiest ferry traffic days and are groggy days in general.

Second, the fog and rain that have dominated the weather for the past several weeks gave no reason for anyone in the crowd to glance up. And, finally, there was a sale at The Bon. While pushing by the sales-oriented consumers at the back of the crowd has not been proven, it appears likely.

When questioned about the incident, ferry officials were reluctant to call for sweeping changes. "The ferry really is pretty crowded these days," the captain of the incoming ferry offered, "My greatest concern is trench coats in the props."

However, it could have been worse. "Professional" commuters should have held ferry and bus passes instead of the handfuls of change that might have weighed down less serious passengers. Few, if any, should have sunk to the bottom, although a trawler has been hired to drag the area just in case.

No one has been apprehended for engineering the hoax. Progress in the case has been slowed by the discovery that most of the missing people were lawyers. "A few less couldn't hurt," said one commuter near the back of the line, who refused to be identified. Another added, "Do you know if any had waterfront?" In fact, suspects in the case include Bainbridge Realty and the American Bar Association.

Although many of those tumbling into the water might have simply caught the next boat had they swum to shore, those that remained buoyant continued swimming east toward Seattle.

One unsubstantiated report says the last words of one man were, "(Expletive deleted), I'm gonna miss the 7:48 bus!"

The effect of large numbers of commuters on the marine environment has been a topic of concern. Although Eagle Harbor is already classified as a Superfund site, The Environmental Protection Agency was called in as an emergency measure.

Reports of fish kills around the island have been received, and the state Department of Health has urged people to avoid eating fish and shellfish from the area until the extent of the damage has been determined. Anyone getting a caffeine buzz from seafood should call the shellfish hotline immediately.

Tidal flushing in Eagle Harbor is thought to be insufficient to dislodge any yuppie deposition on the sea floor. Dredging is an option, although disposal of the spoils remains a problem.

Indeed, attempts to estimate the magnitude of the tragedy have been hindered by the immediate and complete reorganization of many local companies. Early reports this afternoon show a surge in promotions in the Seattle area, but no companies have admitted to any vacancies.

At this hour there are unsubstantiated reports of soggy but well-dressed people making landfall at numerous spots along the waterfront from the Duwamish Head to Shilshole. Those reaching spots without latte stands apparently expired. One report from the Pioneer Square area quotes a rumpled barrister as saying, "I always expected a frigid reception, but it seems to be getting worse."

ASIDE: Those individuals fishing for inexpensive lawyers should try a triple-naught herring dodger and a croissant in a slow troll off Alki.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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