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Van bumped off ferry; parents, kids rescued

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. _ A collision on board the Balboa Island Ferry shoved a minivan into the water on Friday morning, starting the clock on a rescue of two young children and their parents as the vehicle went under.

Witnesses said the family – visiting from Taiwan _ had only a few minutes to escape before the van sank in about 15 feet of water. A ferry worker jumped into the water and swam to help as two boaters pulled alongside the sinking van and helped the family out.

"Please get out my girl," the father told boater Skip Staats as he guided his small dinghy alongside the van. Staats said he reached into the van's rear window and unbuckled the girl from her car seat.

A young boy then clambered over the seat and climbed into his dinghy. The father pulled himself feet first through the driver's side window as another boater pulled alongside the passenger side.

That boater, James Donoghue, helped the mother get out about 20 seconds before the van went under. He asked if she was okay. "She said yes," he said, "and then she looked me square in the eye and said, 'But that was a rental car.'"

Witnesses said a black Mercedes accelerated as it boarded the ferry, ramming the minivan and driving it through a metal safety arm and into the water. The driver of the Mercedes told investigators the accelerator stuck, said Jennifer Schulz, a spokeswoman for the Newport Beach Fire Department.

The Mercedes was left teetering from the front of the ferry but was later pulled back. The minivan floated upright for a few minutes before it nosed down and sank, witnesses said. Ferry workers threw life vests to the family, and one jumped into the water, swam to the van and helped guide the family out.

"It floated just long enough to get them out," Staats said. "They didn't even get wet."

The family is from Taiwan and was vacationing in Orange County, Calif., before heading to San Diego, Schulz said. On Friday, the parents were taking their children _ a 4-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son _ to go whale watching when they boarded the ferry.

"Did I do something wrong?" Staats said the father asked when he climbed into his dinghy. "This is our first time in Newport Beach."

Police said nobody was hurt in the accident, which happened shortly after 9 a.m. on the Balboa Island side of the crossing. The ferry started service in 1919 and travels between the island and the Balboa Peninsula.

The minivan came to rest upside-down under about 15 feet of water. Divers and a floating crane were on scene as officials tried to determine how to hoist it from the bottom.

(Staffers Kari Hall and Mark Eades contributed to this report.)