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Disabled woman on Bell Island ferry slips, hits head

Mandy Crane, still with her hospital identification bracelet on, waits to board the ferry in Portugal Cove Thursday afternoon.
Mandy Crane, still with her hospital identification bracelet on, waits to board the ferry in Portugal Cove Thursday afternoon. - Glen Whiffen

Parents upset with rule that daughter, other passengers have to vacate vehicles for 20-minute crossing

When Mandy Crane slipped Thursday morning on the Bell Island ferry and hit her head, it was a fear realized for Mandy and her parents, Henry and Kay Crane, after a new rule came into effect a year ago that stated passengers were not allowed to remain in their vehicles during crossings.

That includes disabled passengers like Mandy, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

With a disease that severely affects body movement and posture, Mandy finds it difficult to have to leave the vehicle and move to the upper decks to the passenger lounges, only to have to return to the vehicle in about 20 minutes when the crossing is complete.

Fortunately, Mandy’s injuries weren’t deemed serious Thursday after she was examined at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s, where she was taken by ambulance from the ferry, but her mother said it could have been a very serious incident for Mandy, particularly if the fall had damaged the shunt in her head.

“Why should people have to leave their vehicles if the doctor says she is susceptible to falls?” Kay Crane said. “She already has a note from her family doctor — that we’ve had for a long time — that says that because she has cerebral palsy she is very susceptible to slip-and-fall accidents.

“She is very distraught and upset, and now we got to go back to Bell Island and they expect her to get out of the car and go back upstairs again. To subject her to have to go upstairs again after all this is horrendous.”

The provincial government implemented the policy of passengers having to leave their vehicles when the new ferries, the Legionnaire and the Veteran, came into the provincial ferry service. The policy is provincewide, not just on the Bell Island run.

For years before the policy, ferry users could remain in their vehicles during crossings.

The Department of Transportation and Works has stated that an independent risk assessment conducted by Lloyds Registry recommended the department continue to require ferry passengers to vacate their vehicles while travelling on the ferries. The assessment concluded there are safety risks associated with passengers staying in their vehicles during trips, such as scenarios involving vehicle fires and power failures, and emergencies requiring passengers to evacuate the vessel.

Ferry users, however, especially the elderly and those with disabilities and medical conditions, have fought the policy from the beginning, saying they are in more danger of injury and discomfort by having to make their way to passenger decks for a short ferry run.

For Mandy, her ferry crossing Thursday for a routine dentist appointment turned into a scary ordeal.

“We were on the 8:30 a.m. boat to come across, we took her out of the car with assistance, and with her cane and me leading her to and up the elevator,” Kay Crane said. “When it came time to exit the boat, when we were nearing the corner of the elevator, the floor was slippery — I had hold of one of her hands and she had her cane in the other — and the cane slipped and I tried to catch her as best I could, but she twirled and fell and hit the back of her head.”

When he learned of the incident, Henry Crane was angry. He told The Telegram it was the second time in six months that Mandy had fallen during a ferry crossing.

“You want to explain to me where the safety is (with this policy)?” Henry Crane said. “What is it going to take? Somebody gets killed?”

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