Van drives into bay waters off SF's Marina Green


"We were there before the police, before fire," said Vince Casalaina with Red Bull Racing. "We were at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, getting ready for a party tonight, and we heard some yelling from over on the sea wall at the Marina Green. We didn't know what was going on at first, but then we saw the van as it started to float out, away from shore. At which point, my team got in our boat and went out to see what we could do. Three of the guys jumped in the water and tried to break the windows but couldn't get the glass to break enough to get anyone out. So they were actually on the van as it sank."

Casalaina said it took about four to five minutes from the time the van went into the water, to the time it went under. Witness Dave Murphy caught a photo of the vehicle just before those rescuers got to it.

From SKY7 HD you could see rescue crews and spectators when this happened at about 5 p.m. Witnesses say the van careened through Marina Green and went into the water.

"After I heard the car swerve, I turned and I saw just as the car was hitting the grass right here and she skimmed over the blocks right there and skimmed off the asphalt and out into the water," said Ted Matteson, a witness.

Three people attempted to break open the back of the van to rescue the person inside. The frantic moments were caught on video by Nick Andrewes.

"It was going down at the nose, the roof was just submerging when we got to it. Before we even slowed down, three of our guys were in the water with tools and they were able to get on the car and start smashing the window, but unfortunately they couldn't get the window to break completely," said Ian Andrewes, captain of a boating team at the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

Ian and five other team members raced into the bay in their motor boat. His brother shot the video from the deck as they tried to make a rescue.

Quintana: "As you guys were trying to go underwater, could you notice there were people inside?"
Ian: "Yeah."
Quintana: "Do you know how many?"
Ian: "No."

After the van slipped below the surface, it took two-and-a-half hours for rescue teams to locate the van in the 20 to 25-foot murky waters of the bay. They found it with a body inside.

At the time they were searching, Bob Postel from the San Francisco Fire Department said, "The problem we have is that we have a lot of current moving and that vehicle could be anywhere, because of the tide, so we can't really dive on it until we locate where the vehicle is now."

The San Francisco Fire Department sent in one of its heavy rescue teams to try retrieving the body and the van, but unfortunately the treacherous waters of the bay did not make it possible Friday evening. By about 10:30 p.m. rescuers had to call off the retrieval attempts for the night.

When the van was found, crews pulled up a large semi-sized tow truck and they hauled the cable from the tow truck over to the minivan so they could try to attach it and actually pull the van out. However, the car has sunken into the mud so it made that retrieval attempt very difficult. It also made it nearly impossible for the dive teams to go inside the van and retrieve the body. A boom was attached to the car for the night. Because the car is stuck so deep in the mud, they're going to have to call in a commercial salvage team to try to pull it out and that's when they'll also have to recover the body that's inside.

The recovery attempts will resume Saturday morning.

What to do if your car starts sinking in water:
So how can you save yourself, should the unthinkable happen, and you find yourself trapped in your car underwater? An estimated 400 people die each year because their cars are trapped in water. Most of the victims wait or call 911 expecting help.

Safety experts say don't wait: unbuckle your seat-belts, get the window open, and get out of the car before it sinks. And because the back windows on some cars don't roll all the way down, passengers should head through the front ones.

An inexpensive window break tool can punch out the glass before water fills the inside of your car. Experts warn the first 30 to 60 seconds are key to trying to get out of the car.

(The photo of the car in the water is courtesy Dave Murphy.)

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