A New York City firefighter leans over to listen to a crash victim speak.… (Robert Mecea / Associated…)
Reporting from New York —
A Staten Island ferry that crashed seven years ago, killing 11 people, apparently suffered mechanical failure and slammed into a dock as it was approaching Staten Island on Saturday morning, authorities said. None of the more than 30 injuries was considered life-threatening.
Riders aboard the Andrew J. Barberi, which had left Lower Manhattan about 9 a.m., said the ferry did not seem to slow down as it approached the St. George terminal on Staten Island nearly half an hour later. At a news conference, Deputy Fire Chief William Tanzosh said that if crew members had not yelled warnings and herded people away from the boat's front deck as it neared the dock, the result could have been far worse.
"That made all the difference in the world," Tanzosh said.
The city's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, said indications pointed to mechanical problems as the cause of the crash.
"There was not an ability to pull back on the throttle as it approached the dock," said Sadik-Khan, adding that other than the boat involved, Saturday's incident bore no resemblance to the one on Oct. 15, 2003, the worst in the ferry service's history. In that crash, ferry pilot Richard Smith lost consciousness as the boat barreled toward the terminal. No warnings were sounded to the estimated 1,500 passengers on board.
Smith, who had been taking painkillers that caused drowsiness, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced in January 2006 to 18 months in prison.
The ferry Saturday was carrying about 250 passengers and 18 crew members. Many passengers said they heard warnings from crew members just before the crash, which occurred as the ferry was traveling at about 5 knots, just under 6 mph.
"I heard a series of alarms go off and someone said, 'Red, Red, Red!' " said Dwayne Forrest, a tourist from Tennessee.
"It didn't seem like it had slowed down any. I didn't notice the engines letting up at all," added Forrest, who grabbed an empty seat and helped his wife, Sheila, brace herself.
Ferry service was suspended briefly, but by noon, the distinctive orange boats were again making the 5-mile trip between Manhattan and Staten Island. Gov. David Paterson paid a visit to the St. George Ferry Terminal, calling the crash "another scare" in a tense week for New York City. On May 1, there was an attempted car bombing in Times Square, another of New York's biggest tourist draws. Faisal Shahzad, an American citizen from Pakistan, was arrested in connection with the case.
"You always see this on TV," Forrest said, "but you never think you'll be a part of it."