SKAGWAY, Alaska - Ferry service has been suspended to the Southeast Alaska community of Skagway after the dock sank overnight.
"It's a mystery to us right now," Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jeremy Woodrow said Thursday.
People on their way to work saw the partially submerged floating dock about 6 a.m. Thursday, and the dock was completely under water within 90 minutes.
The 160-foot by 120-foot dock is comprised of 24 individual, airtight concrete chambers, each 12 feet deep.
Woodrow said every individual chamber has been inspected by the state in the last two years.
There was "no visible sign of wear or indication that would lead to this submersion," he said.
The 24 chambers are supposed to provide a redundancy backup, he said, meaning if one fails, the other airtight boxes keep the dock afloat. "To have the dock submerged like this, there has to be multiple failures or some other issue," he said.
Two of the department's marine engineers are en route to Skagway from Juneau to investigate the sinking. A diver was scheduled to investigate the dock, which was completed in 1980, to see if there is any visible sign of what caused it to sink.
The state has ferry service scheduled to Skagway about three times a week during the winter and almost daily during the summer.
"The timing of this incident at the onset of the summer tourist season and as Skagway's summer workforce is arriving in town couldn't be worse," said Mayor Mark Schaefer.
Jan Wrentmore, owner of the Red Onion Saloon, said she was dismayed when she saw the dock underwater.
"It was pretty unbelievable," she said. "It's something that you rely on and take for granted, and suddenly it's gone."
The community about 15 miles from the Canadian border is not cut off, however.
It's connected to the Yukon by the Klondike Highway, and is a couple hours away from Whitehorse, in Yukon Territory. It's also about a six-hour drive to Haines, Alaska, a distance that takes about 45 minutes on a ferry.
Besides finding out why the dock sank and if it's salvageable, Woodrow said officials will also investigate if a temporary float can be used for ferry traffic in Skagway or if docks at other existing facilities could be used on an interim basis.
Several local entities combined to help drag to shore parts of the dock that were still accessible above the water line. Also removed from the water was a fork lift that had been on the dock.
It's not the first time a dock in Skagway fell into the ocean.
In 1994, the city's railroad dock sank. The cause was never determined.