Investigators are trying to determine what caused a volunteer to fall to his death while working on the Star of India.
Jeff Minkin was nearby when Greg Gushaw, who was up on a mast in the ship's rigging, fell between 30 and 50 feet.
“He hit the rail really hard," Minkin said. "It was a boom.... 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."
Gushaw, 68, was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead Sunday afternoon.
"As to the cause of why he fell: We don't know at this point," said Rob Ashley, the maritime museum's president and CEO. "He did wind up in the water. The response was fairly immediate. We think we were able to get to him literally within seconds."
Investigators suspect that a medical emergency may have caused the fall. Gushaw was apparently wearing a safety harness at the time of the incident, but it's not known why it failed to protect him. Two separate investigations are under way: One by harbor police and one by the maritime museum.
His neighbors described Gushaw as a man of integrity and class. Gushaw, a longtime volunteer, was part of a training exercises -- helping to get the historic ship ready for November and its first sail in several years.
"I think that's very typical of retired Navy men in this community -- they just want to give back," Molly Coumes.
For about 10 years, Gushaw volunteered in the Maritime Museum. Friends said he loved the ships, their history and what they represented.
"It seemed to be something that was very dear to this heart," Coumes said. "We know he was very passionate with the Star of India."
Gushaw loved spending time along San Diego’s Bay and was passionate about educating others on its history. He was looking forward to helping build a replica of Juan Cabrillo's ship.
"It's just so shocking and so sad," Coumes said. "This community has lost a really great man."