NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A total of 74 people were injured Wednesday when a ferry coming from New Jersey slammed into a dock at a pier in lower Manhattan.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported on Wednesday night, home-bound ferries churned off one after the other, leaving the dark and damaged Seastreak Wall Street bobbing at her mooring – still displaying the gaping gash resembling an open sardine can where she rammed the dock in the morning.
On Wednesday evening investigators said mechanical failure caused the crash. Crew members told NYPD investigators the navigation controls locked or froze into place as the ferry was headed into dock.
Around 8:40 a.m., the ferry banged into the mooring as it was coming into Pier 11 at South Street and Gouverneur Lane, officials said.
Police said there were 326 passengers and five crew members aboard when the impact sent people off their feet and onto the deck. A picture of a nearly shattered window provided an idea of the force of the crash.
The crash brought a massive emergency response to the pier near the South Street Seaport. The injuries ranged from broken bones to wrenched backs and twisted necks – a cruel game of chance based on where you sat or stood at the moment of impact.
Of those injured, two were in critical condition with head wounds, officials said. Nine more were in serious condition.
As of 5 p.m., one remained in critical condition, and all but four had been treated and released, CBS 2′s Dr. Max Gomez reported.
Emergency crews carried patients off the dock on flat-board stretchers. All of the injured were taken to area hospitals, including New York Downtown Hospital, Lenox Hill, Roosevelt, Beth Israel and Cornell Hospital, CBS 2′s Sean Hennessey reported.
“Generally speaking, I feel very safe on the ferry. I did stay seated until the boat docked,” Sister Suzanne told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.
“Stuff happens,” “Bob” from Middletown added. “Look how many trips they make a day. Was this the first little bang they had into a piling?”
Other commuters waiting to board a Monmouth County-bound ferry said the incident seemed isolated.
“I think the guy hit the curb when he parked,” a commuter told Sandberg.
“It was so abrupt. We were all in, just, stages of getting up to go,” said Karen McCarty, one of the passengers who spent the day at the hospital. She went back to Atlantic Highlands Wednesday night the same way she arrived – by ferry – although she went home without the friend with whom she rode in.
“She just flew,” McCarty said. “She flew about 10 feet, and I’m pretty sure she broke a rib. I haven’t been able to call her, and I’m pretty sure she broke a rib. There was a guy behind me that ran into the pole in the bar, and his head was split open. So it was horrible.”
The ferry departed from Highlands, N.J., at 8 a.m., Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said.
Speaking at a news conference, Sadik-Khan called the crash “a hard landing.”
“It appears the boat hit slip D and then continued on and hit slip B,” she said. “It looked like it was 10 to 12 knots.”
The National Transportation Safety Board will commence an investigation into the crash on Thursday, said board member Robert L. Sumwalt. A team of 11 investigators from Washington, D.C., were to be dispatched, and will interview the crew.
The team will examine operations, company management, regulatory compliance, and human performance, Sumwalt said.
When asked whether the ferry had a black box voice recorder like an airplane, Sumwalt said some ferries have such technology and some do not. All indications are that this particular vessel did not, but it did have a lot of “sophisticated electronics” that could have captured information, he said.
Passenger Richard Correra described a chaotic scene.
“All of a sudden, the boat felt like it smashed into a wall,” he told CBS 2. “Dozens of passengers got thrown out of their seats, got thrown forward. Some were heading downstairs and just flew down the stairs and hit their heads on various poles and walls.”
Passenger Ashley Furman said she was one of those who was tossed several feet when the boat hit the dock.
“As usual, I was lined up by the door to get off to be the first one off because it takes five minutes to get off and unload,” she said. “The next thing I knew I opened my eyes and I was on the floor six or ten feet away from where I was standing.”
One witness said the ferry didn’t appear to slow down as it approached the dock and then heard a big bang, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported. But other witnesses told CBS 2′s John Slattery that the ferry’s approach seemed normal.
Tiffany Wysocki accompanied an injured fried who suffered a head injury.
“She was standing. I was sitting,” she said, adding that the fact that she was sitting was fortunate.
“I take the boat all the time and what it did, it hit the right side of the dock, hard, like a bomb,” said witness Dee Wertz.
One woman who was on board the ferry said it has been a rough past few months for her.
“I’m actually displaced right now because of Sandy, so this is definitely not my year,” passenger Alison Basile told WCBS 880′s Paul Murnane. “But I’m very grateful, I think I’m relatively fine.”
CBS News Division Art Director Jim Jackson was on the ferry when the accident happened and described the moment of impact.
“Extremely sudden. I was standing up in line to get out the back of the vessel and the next thing I knew I was sliding on my stomach across the floor, kind of swimming through debris,” Jackson told WCBS 880′s Steve Scott.
Jackson said the moments following impact were full of confusion.
“It seemed like it was in slow motion and that it took a while and then it was very calm. People just started helping each other up and I think everybody was in a state of shock,” Jackson said. “It took a while to realize what actually happened.”
Jackson said it seemed like the people on the steel stairs leading from the top deck to the first level of the ferry had suffered the worst injuries.
“I saw a person that was on his side that looked like his arm was bent around his back and his head was opened up, a huge gash and he wasn’t moving,” Jackson told Scott.
Another passenger described the mayhem.
“It was just a huge impact that threw everybody either out of their seat or into the front of the seat next to them or if they were standing they were thrown to the ground,” a commuter named Frank told Murnane.
A gash could be seen on a front corner of the boat. It looked as if it had been ripped open like a tin can.
“It was a pretty good jolt,” one witness said. “There was a lot of people that were cut, banged up, in pain.”
A 141-foot ferry, the vessel is able to carry 400 passengers and provides daily commuter service to and from New York City, according to the company’s website.
To save fuel costs, the boat’s water-jet propulsion system had been replaced with a new system of propellers and rudders, MarineLog magazine reported in August.
Seastreak posted the following statement on its website:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured,” the statement said. “Seastreak LLC will work closely with the federal, state and local authorities to determine the cause of the accident.
“Seastreak will be providing free transportation to New York to friends and family members of those who were injured in today’s incident, either via Seastreak vessel or car service. We will also provide lodging if necessary for those who may need to stay overnight.”
Please contact the Seastreak office at 1-800-BOATRIDE (1-800-262-8743) for more information and to make necessary arrangements. “
Police said crew members passed alcohol breath tests that were given after the crash.
NTSB officials said they expect to be in New York City for about five to seven days to investigate.
“Ultimately what we’re looking for is to determine what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again,” NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said.
The pier was to reopen Wednesday afternoon.
This is not the first commuter ferry accident in New York City.
In 2003, 11 people were killed and more than 70 people injured when the Staten Island Ferry Andrew J. Barberi crashed into a pier after the pilot passed out at the wheel. The pilot pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 18 months in prison.
The city paid out more than $50 million to victims’ families.
In July 2009, John J. Marchi lost power and hit a pier at the St. George Terminal at full speed causing 15 minor injuries.
Nearly a year later, the Andrew J. Barberi again crashed into the dock, causing 37 minor injuries.
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