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Ferry Crash Probe Focusing on Crew

Pilot's work reviewed as other factors are discounted in N.Y. crash that killed 10.

October 19, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — A mangled Staten Island ferry, its flags at half-mast, was moved Saturday from the terminal where it rammed a concrete pier earlier in the week, in a crash that killed 10 people.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators completed the bulk of their work aboard the ferry, which sat near the Staten Island shoreline as they sifted through its twisted metal, splintered wood and broken glass. Investigators are increasingly focusing on the crew, particularly the pilot.

Legal experts predicted that the city would face a deluge of lawsuits. A federal maritime doctrine allows compensation for anyone suffering physical or emotional distress -- which might allow any of the 1,500 passengers aboard to bring a case.

The NTSB issued a subpoena Friday seeking blood and urine samples from pilot Richard Smith to determine whether he was taking prescription medicine on the day of the crash. The ferry's captain, Michael Gansas, told investigators that he saw Smith unconscious and slumped over the controls before the crash.

Smith, who authorities say tried to commit suicide after the wreck, remained hospitalized in critical condition Saturday. Investigators hoped to determine whether medication for high blood pressure caused him to collapse.

Gansas is to be interviewed by the NTSB on Tuesday. He probably will face questions about whether he was in the pilot house with Smith at the time of the crash. City procedures require both men to be there when the ferry is moving, but investigators say they have received conflicting reports about Gansas' location.

The Andrew J. Barberi was going full throttle, about 17 mph, when it went off course Wednesday afternoon and hit the concrete maintenance pier hundreds of feet from its normal slip, crushing the ferry's lower side.

In addition to the 10 people killed, more than 60 were injured, including three who lost limbs. Fourteen people remained hospitalized as of late Saturday.

NTSB officials have discounted weather and mechanical problems as possible causes of the crash.

At the Staten Island ferry terminal Saturday morning, three tugboats nudged the crippled ferry away from the docks and toward the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with police and Coast Guard boats serving as escorts.

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