GPS fails; man follows directions straight into Alaska harbor

There are those who are ready to follow the GPS in their car to the ends of the earth – literally.

A man intently following the instructions of his GPS after leaving a ferry early Thursday made a sharp right turn and drove into the harbor in Whittier, Alaska, submerging his car up to the antenna, police said.

The man, who was not seriously injured, was rescued by another ferry passenger and taken by ambulance to a hospital in Anchorage.

“We’re aghast, actually,” harbor master Sue Miller told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s never happened before, let’s put it that way.”


Whittier, a town of about 200 year-round residents on Alaska’s scenic Prince William Sound, has a reputation for being a bit weird. A book by Alan Taylor calls it “The Strangest Town in Alaska.” Most of the residents live in a single high-rise tower built back when the U.S. Army decided the remote harbor would be a great refuge during World War II.

For years, it was connected to civilization only by ferry and by a 2 1/2-mile-long tunnel through the surrounding mountains that in past years didn’t even have a road through it, merely a train track.

Now, the town is a popular tourist destination by both car and ferry. The driver in question, who has not been identified by authorities, arrived on the Kennicott car ferry, operated by the Alaska Marine Highway System, shortly after 6 a.m. He was accompanied by two dogs and a cat, authorities said.

Apparently not wanting to get lost — though how you could get lost in Whittier is part of the mystery — he switched on the global positioning system navigator in his Subaru.


“He had just disembarked from the ferry, and they follow the road around what we call our triangle area – it’s a little business area right to the east of the harbor basin – and when he got back to the starting point of entering that triangle, he said the GPS said to turn right,” Miller said.

“So he turned a sharp right, which took him down the launch ramp and into the harbor.”

The ramp, she said, is intended to allow private boats to enter and leave the harbor. In this case, the Subaru advanced 50 feet into the water and was submerged.

Another ferry passenger saw the whole thing and immediately helped the man out of the car, Miller said, and someone else broke out a back window in the car and rescued the two dogs.


“The cat did not make it out,” public safety director Dave Schofield said.

The Subaru was hauled out of the water and taken to Anchorage, while the man was transported by ambulance, though he wasn’t seriously injured. “He was fine,” Schofield said.


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