A 58-year-old Texas woman tragically fell to her death from the historic ship Elissa when the safety harness she was wearing did not appear to be tethered to the ship, police said.
The victim, identified as Jill Marie Hickman Victor, of Nassau, Texas, was a volunteer at the Galveston Historical Foundation, according to the Port of Galveston Police Department.
The incident happened on Saturday around noon at Pier 22 at Galveston’s seaport museum, where the Elissa is docked. Officials said that Victor had reportedly climbed a mast approximately 35 feet high from the deck of the ship, when she slipped and fell. She was wearing a climbing harness at the time of her fall, but did not appear to be clipped to the ship. When emergency personnel arrived she was pronounced dead at the scene, the Port of Galveston Police Department said in a press release.
“No foul play is suspected in this incident,” Port of Galveston Police Chief Kenneth Brown said in the release. “No drugs or alcohol are suspected to be casual factors in this accident.”
Brown said, in part: “We’re not sure exactly what happened that she wasn’t double clipped in. When she went to move from one location to another, she apparently slipped and fell,’ The Galveston County Daily News reported.
The police chief said that the incident remains under investigation.
Will Wright, a spokesperson with the Galveston Historical Foundation, told Inside Edition Digital that it was Victor’s first year as a volunteer crew member and that Elissa is staffed by volunteers. He did not know how many training sessions Victor had before the fatal fall.
“It is sad and heartbreaking,” Wright said.
He said that their sailing season begins in early April and runs for three weeks. The ship sails from the Galveston port into the Gulf of Mexico.
“It is one of the three oldest ships of that type in the world that still actively sails,” he said.
The training program is close to a year long. In order to be part of the volunteer crew the training criteria must be met, Wright explained. Volunteers can learn all the aspects of the ship from maintenance to navigation, to sail rigging, etc. Volunteers can choose what role they would like to do. Wright told Inside Edition Digital that he was not sure what role Victor had on the ship.
Victor’s best friend, Susie, told KHOU-11 News that her friend “had an adventurous spirit,” and that she was “looking forward to her first sail on the old ship in April.”
“We believe she died doing what she loved volunteering on the Elissa,” she said, in part.
In a statement, the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF), a non-profit organization that operates more than 20 historic sites and vessels, issued a statement on behalf of their board, staff, and the volunteer crew of Elissa on their website, saying that they were “sadden at the loss of a fellow volunteer and staff member.”
“ELISSA is a crew of dedicated men and women who operate the ship with passion and dedication. We extend our condolences to the crew member’s family and friends,” the statement read.
As the accident is being investigated by the authorities, the GHF said it is conducting its own internal review, the statement said.
The Elissa is one of the few historic tall ships in the world that still sails, according to the museum’s website.
The Elissa, which was built in 1877, was retrieved by the GHF in the 1970s from a shipyard in Greece and restored for sailing and as a floating museum at Pier 22. It has more than 40,000 visitors annually.
The museum said volunteers are trained under an extensive program. According to the foundation’s site, staff and volunteers undergo routine inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard.