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Ferry Breaks Loose From Tether, Floats Down Potomac River

“There was a very loud pop. The cable just snapped, and you could see that we started going sideways down the river,” said Ted Clarkson of Gaithersburg.

The Historic White’s Ferry, which has been taking folks back and forth across the Potomac River since the early 1800s via a cable and pulley system that hasn’t changed all that much broke free from its cable today and began floating down the Potomac with cars and passengers on board.

Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service reported the incident at 2:49 pm this afternoon. The ferry floated about 500 yards downstream. The vessel was ferrying 12 vehicles to the Maryland side of the river when the cable snapped.

MCFRS dispatched swift water boats and rescue personnel, as well as the National Park Police helicopter to the scene. However, the ferry had come to rest on the bank before their arrival and no boats needed to be launched. No injuries were reported and no vehicles ended up in the river.

“We were coming across the river, and the cable snapped,” said Poolesville resident Jeff Casella, who was returning to Maryland on the ferry with his wife Alicia and their baby girl. “The pilot gunned it, and we floated for a while until he was able to tether it to a tree. We spun around, and we bumped down a ways until we hit the bank.”

“The ferryman cranked up the engine and drove it into the bank about two or three houses down the river,” said Clarkson. “Thank goodness he was able to get the engines going and get out of the channel in the middle of river,”

Ferry passengers praised the quick actions of the ferryman and a woman who was waiting on the Maryland side to take the ferry into Virginia, who sprang into action to help the ferry pilot as he frantically attempted to get the vessel to the river banks.