The bodies of two longtime friends were found embracing in the back seat of a car that sank Tuesday after plunging off a Miami Beach ferryboat in what's being described as a freak accident. Emma Afra, 63, had driven her Mercedes-Benz to the front of the first of four car lanes on the 113-foot Pelican ferryboat for the 2-mile journey to Miami Beach from Fisher Island, where she lived, reports the Miami Herald. Just as the ferry was departing around 5pm, and for reasons still under investigation, the car drove out of the lane and through a thin barrier marking the spot where cars would exit onto land. A devastating scene was discovered hours later. Afra and her passenger, Viviane Brahms, 75, of Harrison, NY, were found embracing in the back seat of the car, which came to rest upside down some 50 feet below the surface of the channel known as Government Cut.
The ferry was reportedly not equipped with a video recording system. But authorities believe Afra, a well-known philanthropist, may have forgotten to put her vehicle in "park" and mistakenly hit the gas pedal. She's thought to have driven over chocks used by the crew to keep cars from rolling, according to investigators. Footage of the scene showed a vacant parking spot at the front of the boat behind what the Washington Post describes as a "blue tarp" barrier that had been torn down. The Herald notes a sign aboard the Pelican "reminds drivers to engage the parking brake." Roberto Sosa, president of the Fisher Island Community Association, mourned "the tragic loss of life" in a Wednesday statement. "It's a jarring tragedy," Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber adds, per CBS Miami. "I think the whole community is very shocked." (Read more ferry accident stories.)