Investigators look over the damage to the front of a commuter ferry from… (Justin Lane, European Pressphoto…)
NEW YORK — A commuter ferry carrying hundreds of people from New Jersey to New York City hit a slip at a Lower Manhattan pier Wednesday, then kept going and smashed into a second slip, injuring at least 57 people, two of them critically.
One person was hurtled through a glass door and another fell down a flight of stairs as the Seastreak Wall Street, a triple-decker ferry carrying 326 passengers and five crew members, jerked to a halt, officials said. The accident tore a gash in the right front of the boat, which had left New Jersey at 8 a.m. for the roughly 45-minute trip to the Wall Street area.
Most passengers interviewed said the ride had been uneventful and that people had lined up as usual near the front of the boat to disembark quickly as it neared Pier 11 on its second run of the day.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang followed by a strong jolt.
"It was entirely normal. Everything was normal," said Brett Cebulash, who was not injured. "We rolled in slowly like we normally do, but it didn't stop this time."
Within minutes, emergency responders had arrived at the busy pier and turned it into a triage center, with the injured strapped onto stretchers and laid side-by-side on the ground to await ambulances. Other passengers walked away, some with bandages covering wounds.
The 140.7-foot catamaran had extensive renovations done last summer to replace its engine system, which involved removing large sections of the hull to install new propellers and rudders. The work reduced the ship's weight and speed and improved its fuel efficiency, said Seastreak's president, James Barker.
"You're looking at the greenest ferry in America," Barker said at a news briefing at Pier 11, where the damaged vessel remained in the water. He said the captain had been with Seastreak for about 10 years and was at the controls when the crash occurred. The boat was involved in two minor incidents in 2009 and in 2010, neither involving injuries.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board who arrived a few hours after the accident said they planned to interview the crew Thursday.
It was the most serious ferry accident in New York City since October 2003, when a Staten Island ferry smashed into the St. George terminal on the island after leaving Lower Manhattan in choppy seas. Eleven people died and more than 70 people were injured in the crash. It was blamed on the pilot, who was on painkillers and fell asleep at the controls, allowing the ferry to crash at high speed into the dock.
Seven years later, the same vessel hit the St. George terminal in an accident blamed on mechanical failure. Thirty-seven people were injured, none seriously.
Of those injured on the Seastreak Wall Street, nine were in serious condition in addition to the two who suffered critical injuries. The other injuries were considered relatively minor.