California Catalina Express Ferry Crew Members Saw Man Jump Off Boat Before Disappearing

Crew members of a California Catalina Express ferry said they saw a man jump off the boat before he disappeared into the water on Thursday evening.

The man had been a passenger on a privately owned passenger ferry, the Jet Cat Express, which transports passengers from the Los Angeles area to Catalina Island. The vessel is operated by Catalina Express.

"Deckhands actually saw some of it," Catalina Express President Greg Bombard told reporters on Friday. "When they saw him hit the water, they threw a life ring over and here we are looking for him."

Bombard said he wasn't sure if the man intentionally jumped off the boat or if something caused him to fall from the stern of the vessel. He added this is the first time anything like this has happened in the 40 years he has been in the business.

"We've never had anybody jump over like that or fall over like that," Bombard said.

Authorities were first alerted of the incident aboard the Jet Cat Express around 6 p.m. Thursday, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The missing passenger was described as a 24-year-old Black man wearing a white sweatshirt. His name has not been released.

According to the Catalina Express, the crew went into "immediate man overboard response," which includes throwing the life ring and using a GPS tracker to map its path back to where the incident happened.

"Catalina Express schedules drills weekly in accordance with US Coast Guard regulations involving various situations, including Man Overboard, Abandon Ship, Security and Fire Fighting and also coordinates emergency response drills involving other authorities," the company wrote to Newsweek in a Friday statement. "This level of preparedness was key to the expediency in which the Catalina Express captain and crew and local authorities responded to the situation."

Catalina Express Ferry Long Beach Overboard Passenger
The search continued Friday for a passenger that went overboard on a Catalina Express ferry the evening before in California. Above, a jogger and pedestrian pass on the beach in front of container ships and tankers close to the Port of Long Beach on February 1, 2021, in Long Beach, California. Mario Tama/Getty

Bombard said the incident occurred about three miles into the trip after the boat left Long Beach for Catalina at 5:20 p.m. The ferry, carrying around 150 passengers, returned to Long Beach around 8 p.m. after circling the area for roughly an hour. Passengers were transferred to another boat to continue the trip to the island.

The U.S. Coast Guard, L.A. County Lifeguards, a dive team and a helicopter responded to aid in the search.

Authorities are using the life ring, thrown by crew members, as the "point last seen" for the search effort.

The 24-year-old was on board the boat with his girlfriend, who, along with crew members, is being interviewed by investigators to determine what happened. Security camera footage is also being reviewed to help piece together the events leading up to the man going overboard.

"People saw him go over the side, so we'll look at the footage we've got, and we'll figure that out," Bombard said.

On Friday, the Coast Guard returned to the water to continue the search, according to Long Beach Fire Department spokesperson Brian Fisk. Officials said their survivability model indicates the man could potentially survive in the water for up to 24 hours, but there are other factors involved.

Updated 11/06/21, 4:13 p.m. ET: This story was updated with comments from Catalina Express.

Editor's Note: The video above is of a different rescue operation than mentioned in the story.