NTSB Investigation Into Seastreak Ferry Accident Under Way
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Commuters had a much smoother ride Thursday, a day after a high-speed commuter ferry slammed into a lower Manhattan pier, injuring dozens of people.
At least 74 people were injured Wednesday when the Seastreak Wall Street, coming from Highlands, N.J., slammed into a dock at a Pier 11 at South Street Seaport at 8:45 a.m.
The ferry had maintenance issues and recently received a major overhaul and the National Transportation Safety Board will look into whether that was a factor in the crash.
Early Wednesday, crews towed the boat from the accident scene to a secure location in New Jersey.
A team of 11 investigators from Washington, D.C. have been dispatched and will interview the crew.
The team will examine operations, company management, regulatory compliance, and human performance, board member Robert L. Sumwalt said.
“Right now we’re just trying to collect, gather the factual information and the perishable evidence that can go away with the passage of time,” Sumwalt said. “We will be going over that boat with a fine tooth comb.”
The interviews are expected to take all day.
Thursday marks the first full day of investigating what went wrong on-board the Seastreak. The investigation could take up to a week.
Passengers described pure pandemonium as the Seastreak ferry banged into the mooring as it was coming into Pier 11 during the Wednesday morning commute around 8:40 a.m. at South Street and Gouverneur Lane.
“It hit the right side of the boat on the dock hard, like a bomb,” witness Dee Wertz said.
The boat was loaded with 326 commuters and five crew members.
“I went flying,” victim Ashley Furman said. “I woke up in a daze shaking.”
“There was a guy behind me who just ran into the pole in the bar and his head split open. It was horrible,” victim Karen McCarty said.
“Everyone flew. Everyone just flew and people were on the ground,” passenger Tony Lucia said.
“I saw a lot of bloody heads, for lack of a better description,” passenger Frank McLaughlin told CBS 2′s Kathryn Brown.
The force of the crash peeled back the hull of the ferry like a tin can.
More than 70 people were injured and rushed to area hospitals. One person remains in critical condition.
Investigators administered breathalyzers to crew members and do not believe alcohol was a factor.
It is unclear what caused the accident, but NYPD sources said it could be a case of mechanical failure.
The crew reportedly told investigators that the ferry’s controls “locked” or “froze” as veteran captain Jason Reimer guided the boat into the slip.
“He’s very concerned just as we are,” Seastreak President Jim Barker said. “This is a very serious accident and had very serious consequences, our concerns go out to those who got hurt and their families who got hurt.”
The Seastreak Wall Street had two minor docking incidents in 2009 and 2010 before getting a major makeover to improve fuel efficiency.
Over the summer, the four original engines were replaced with two new ones and the original waterjet propulsion was replaced by more traditional propellers.
The retrofit required re-training for the crew. Many passengers said when the boat came back into service the captain seemed to have more trouble docking, CBS 2 reported.
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.