NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Investigators were hard at work Thursday trying to find out how a ferry carrying more than two dozen people got stuck on a sandbar in Jamaica Bay.
Overnight, a tug boat towed the stranded ferry away for examination, CBS2’s Magdalena Doris reported. Crews will look for damaged equipment or any sign that points to what went wrong.
The city-sponsored, privately run ferry was en route from Rockaway Beach to the Wall Street Terminal Wednesday on a 20-degree evening when it suddenly jolted and “we just came to a screeching halt,” passenger Jake Nicholson said.
Police and firefighters were called around 6 p.m. Wednesday to the boat, which had run aground on a sand bar in the Rockaway Inlet. The ferry was about 10 minutes into its trip at the time, passengers said.
As CBS2’s John Dias reported, Anthony Scotto of Rockaway Beach had every intention Wednesday night to watch the Rangers play. But things did not go as planned.
“So to say we were angry is an understatement,” Scotto said.
He said the ferry passengers were left stuck in the cold, and in the dark – both in the literal sense and when it came to information about what was happening.
“My biggest issue is probably that we all waited — confused, nervous — for hearing absolutely nothing,” Scotto said.
Passengers had to make the best of the situation.
“Everyone’s spirits were pretty high,” Scotto said. “It was nice at first but then the heat, the power went out so it was pretty cold.”
“We became like a family, everyone was cracking jokes,” said passenger Jeffery Spears. “You had the guys who missed the Rangers game, one girl she was moving her stuff back to Manhattan.”
All the while, the Coast Guard, NYPD and FDNY worked to get close enough for a rescue, but there was only two feet of water surrounding the stranded ferry and a small raft was the only vessel that could get close enough.
“It was difficult because they had to climb down a ladder, a 12-foot straight ladder, down the back of the ferry onto our boat and then transferred onto several different boats — so a very slow, tedious, time-consuming operation,” said FDNY Chief John Esposito.
“Only time you froze was getting to the police boat because they put you down in a raft and I thought we would never get to that and even the raft got stuck,” Spears said. “They had to use sticks to keep getting it out into the water.”
Six hours later, the FDNY rescue boat reached the Brooklyn Army Terminal with passengers eager to get home and wondering how and this happened.
“I’m sure it was an error,” said passenger Kevin Fitzgerald. “I’m not sure who the error was, but the bottom line is a depth finder should have helped out.”
There were no injuries reported.
Thursday morning, Catherine Muldoon was boarding the ferry at Rockaway Beach despite what happened Wednesday night.
Just one month ago, her mother was one of the 114 passengers stuck on the Zelinsky, a ferry that hit a debris field 100 feet from the Wall Street Terminal and began taking on water.
“She just sent a picture of herself in a life jacket so that was scary but she was fine,” she said. “I’d still rather take it than the train and the cops, police department are right there, so they won’t let anything happen to us.”
In both cases, all passengers were safely removed from the immobile vessels. It’s a concern for Mike Carter, but not enough to stop riding.
“It’s kind of weird that it would happen further out,” he said. “I thought all the water here was really deep.”
Meanwhile of Thursday, the NHL had already reimbursed Scotto and his two friends for the Rangers game they missed. All 24 passengers on board will also be given a yearly NYC Ferry pass, as well as other perks.
There is also a promise that experts will get to the bottom of what happened.
“By all accounts, this appears to be an isolated incident,” said Anthony Hogrebe, a senior vice president at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The organization runs the ferry service.
“Right now, there is no reason to assume there was any equipment failure,” Hogrebe said.
He said crewmembers and captains go through rigorous training programs that the United States Coast Guard signs off on, and every vessel has navigational equipment.
“Preliminary information suggests that the vessel may have been off route,” Hogrebe said. “Why that was the case will be determined.”
When it comes to captain of the ferry, he will not be hitting any New York waterways anytime soon. He has been put off duty during the investigation.
Scotto is pleased with that development.
“This could’ve been avoided completely,” he said.
NYC Ferry operated by Hornblower Senior Vice President Cameron Clark issued a statement about Wednesday’s incident, saying, “First and foremost, our focus is always on the safety of our riders, and we truly appreciate the support of the USCG, FDNY and NYPD for their assistance with safely transporting our riders off of the vessel last night.”
“While preliminary information indicates the vessel was off route, that’s something investigators will look at during the investigation,” the statement said. “Safety is our number one priority, and we will continue to review our training programs in order to ensure rider and crew safety.”
All New York City ferries we rerunning on schedule Thursday evening.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)