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Wednesday
Jan092013

New York Ferry Crash Leaves Dozens Injured

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- At least 70 people were injured, two critically, when a high-speed commuter ferry slammed into a dock near New York's financial district during rush hour Wednesday morning.

The impact tore a large gash in the bow of the 130.6-foot-long ferry, which was operated by Seastreak, a private company.

At the time of the accident, the vessel was carrying 326 people, including five crew members, from Highlands, N.J., to Wall Street when it hit the dock at Pier 11 just before 9 a.m. Wednesday.

"I was half-asleep and heard a pretty really loud crash and next thing you know I was 10 feet away from my chair and lying on a bunch of other chairs," said passenger Steve Mann.

Many of the passengers were standing when the ferry crashed because they were preparing to get off the ferry.

One man was injured critically when he was thrown down the stairs and hit his head on a window, officials said.

"Everybody went flying everywhere," said passenger Bill McKenzie.

Allison Basile, of Highlands, N.J., said she is a regular commuter on the ferry to and from Lower Manhattan every day.

"Since my head hit the seat in front of me I didn't seen anything immediately, but then when I looked around I noticed that there were many people down lying in the aisles bleeding. And then pandemonium ensued. It was just shocking," Basile told ABC News.

Roy Marceau, who said he takes the ferry every day, said the impact felt like a "pretty good jolt."

"A lot of people were cut, banged up," he said. "It didn't really sound like anything, just the boat came to a sudden stop. Halt."

The dock was turned into a triage area, where the dozens of injured were placed on gurneys and taken to area hospitals.

An 11-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board was sent to New York City to begin an investigation into the cause of the crash. The on-site investigation is expected to last five to seven days, said Robert Sumwalt, a member of the NTSB board.

"Everything is on the table. We're not ruling anything in or out," Sumwalt said.

Drug and alcohol tests were conducted on the captain and crew, the U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement. Authorities told ABC News the crew had passed the breath tests. However, it would take several days for the blood test results.

River conditions and weather were not abnormal Wednesday, ruling out environmental factors as the reason for the crash.

The vessel was last inspected in July 2012.

Seastreak said the propulsion system on the ferry, which was built in 2002, was changed last year in response to the EPA/Clean Air Act.

"We went to new propellers, new shafting. We significantly updated the propulsion to make it more efficient, more green," spokesman Bob Dorn said.

He said investigators are "looking at the machinery" and any possible issues with maneuverability would "come out as part of the investigation."

The ferry did not have a voice data recorder, commonly referred to as a "black box" on board. However, NTSB officials said other electronic equipment on the ferry may be able to help them determine factors such as the speed of the vessel upon impact.

On Thursday, the captain and crew will be interviewed.

The route is back up and running following the accident.

Management for Seastreak said it would work closely with federal, state and local authorities to investigate the crash.

"The vessel's crew immediately initiated emergency response procedures and authorities responded quickly due to the location," the company said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited the scene of the accident Wednesday morning to survey the damage.

The private ferry had been knocked out of service for some time following Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc on some of the communities served by Seastreak.

For Basile, the crash was just the latest blow.

"I'm actually displaced right now because of Sandy so this is definitely not my year," she said.

In 2003, 11 people were killed and dozens more were injured when the Staten Island ferry crashed full-speed into a concrete pier.

The captain of the vessel, Richard Smith, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to 11 seaman's manslaughter charges.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio