It's being called the worst accident in the history of the San Diego Maritime Museum.
A volunteer plunged 40-50 feet from the Star of India, hit his head and fell into the water, police said. He died at a hospital.
On Sunday morning, Greg Gushaw, 68, was conducting a training exercise when something went horribly wrong.
"Apparently he was about 30 feet up in the rigging,” said Battalion Chief John Fisher.
For some unknown reason the retired Coronado man fell. He struck his head on the shrouds of the ship and then hit the water.
"I saw someone falling and I heard, it sounded like broken wood to me, like something snapped," said Jeff Minkin.
The witness says Gushaw hit the rail really hard.
"It almost sounded like a wood splitting or splintering, it was a cracking sound and that brought everyone’s attention and then you heard the splash," Minkin said. “It was like two cars crashing into each other going quite fast. That’s what it sounded like.”
Within seconds, two crewmembers jumped in after him.
"They were yelling ‘man overboard,’ you know all the workers," said witness Cindy Berg.
The staff from the Maritime Museum got him onto a small boat and took him to the dock at Anthony's Fish Grotto, according to Harbor police. They started CPR until San Diego fire units arrived on scene and took over.
"He was not responding… and you could see the blood," Minkin said. "He wasn't moving."
The victim was apparently wearing a safety harness when he fell, but it's not known why it failed to protect him.
" No one goes aloft without that," said President and CEO of Maritime Museum Ray Ashley. "In this particular instance, this was a training exercise because we are preparing to take the ship sailing this November."
Gushaw was a long-term crewmember of the Star of India.
"He is also a Docent, one of our best Docents, he is also a member of one of our board of trustees, he is probably one of the nicest and good natured guys you'd ever hope to meet," Ashley said.
Ashley said this is the first time anything like this has happened at the Maritime Museum.
"There are the normal sprains and people splinters in their fingers and things like that, but in terms of serious accidents, this is the first one we've had," Ashley said.
Two separate investigations are underway -- One by harbor police and one by the Maritime Museum.