ST. MARYS, Ga. – Retired Navy submariners and their family members were making their way to a floating dock to get on a river cruise boat for a tour of the St. Marys River on Tuesday when the gangway collapsed, leaving 17 people injured, according to city officials.
In a news release, St. Marys City Manager Robert Horton said first responders were called around 10:15 a.m. to a collapsed pier at the boat ramps at St. Marys and Wheeler streets.
The city manager said a group of retired submarine sailors from the USS Angler and their spouses who were in town to celebrate a reunion had gathered for a tour and river cruise on the St. Marys River. The city manager said that the river cruise boat was secured to a floating dock and passengers were making their way to the floating dock when the metal walkway attached to the pier gave way and collapsed. According to the city manager, there were about 17 to 20 people walking along this portion of the pier during the collapse.
“Witnesses standing along the pier as well as those who were involved in the incident reported a sudden loud noise as the walkway collapsed into the river,” Horton said.
Retired Sailor Dennis Zach said it happened so fast he didn’t even have time to react.
“It went straight down just like that. ‘Boom’ in one shot,” Zach said. “That thing went down so fast we were in the air.”
According to the city manager, there were 17 reports of injuries, and six of those who were injured were transported to nearby hospitals for the treatment of more severe injuries. Police initially told News4JAX that 16 people were hurt.
Zach told News4JAX that he hurt his legs and knees.
“It went straight down, and my legs buckled, and I hyperextended both knees and I hyperextended my heels,” Zach said. “I couldn’t get up.”
Gianna Golby is at the St. Marys Submarine Museum just across the street from the ramp. The gift shop manager said she found out about what happened after one of the retired sailor’s wives ran into the store asking for help.
“Everybody was concerned. ‘What could we do? What could we do?’ Because they’re literally in the water, and there’s no way to get them,” Golby said.
Golby said she climbed away over rocks and jumped into the water until paramedics got there.
“I think as fast as I got on the gangway, I could hear the sirens coming down the road,” she recounted.
Among the agencies that responded to the incident were the St. Marys Fire Department, the St. Marys Police Department, Camden County Fire Rescue, the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, Kings Bay Fire Rescue, Camden County Emergency Management and the National Park Service.
In the meantime, according to the city manager, the piers and boat ramps located on the St. Marys River at St. Marys and Wheeler streets will be closed to the public for a short but undetermined amount of time.
“This closure is to allow engineers the opportunity to inspect the pier and make appropriate corrections to prevent any further incident or to jeopardize the citizens seeking to enjoy the public access to the St. Marys waterfront,” Horton said. “The City of St. Marys takes the safety of our citizens very seriously and will continue to take all measures to ensure that commitment. We ask for patience as we investigate the incident and for thoughts and prayers to the families affected by the event.”
News4JAX has requested an inspection report on the ramp from the city of St. Marys but has not received a response yet.