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Ten killed in New York ferry crash
( 2003-10-16 08:32) (Agencies)

A Staten Island ferry struck a pier while trying to dock in Staten Island in New York Wednesday afternoon, and officials said at least 10 people were dead and about three dozen were injured. Witnesses said the ferry appeared to be moving faster than usual when it hit the dock and pilings crashed through the side of the boat.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, speaking shortly after 6 p.m., announced the death toll and said ferry service between Staten Island and Manhattan had been suspended. He told a news briefing that investigators were interviewing crew members, who will be tested for drugs and alcohol.

Officials inspect the top deck of a ferry boat in Staten Island, New York, that was involved in a fatal accident Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2003. The ferry slammed into a pier as it was docking Wednesday, killing at least 10 people, tearing off victims' limbs and sending passengers leaping into the water, officials said. At least 34 people were injured. [AP]

``When it got here, for reasons that will be determined with an official investigation, it crashed into one of the piers,'' the mayor said. The side of the ferry was ripped open and people inside were hit by the pilings that came through the boat, he added.

``It's a terrible tragedy,'' Mayor Bloomberg said. ``People who were on their way home all of a sudden taken from us.''

A Fire Department spokesman, Mike Loughran, said rescuers were searching the ferry, the Andrew J. Barberi, and the waters off St. George Terminal for casualties. Emergency medical workers were also at the scene, he said. Officials said that they feared the death toll would climb, and that 34 people had already been taken to Staten Island hospitals, some with amputated limbs.

Mayor Bloomberg said casualty numbers could climb as recovery and rescue operations continued.

``There were numerous injuries and firefighters are working to search the boat for remaining people,'' Mr. Loughran said. ``Some are serious, and there is a large number of patients.''

The New York City Police Department said the ferry, bound for Staten Island from lower Manhattan five miles away, ``collided with a pier when attempting to dock.''

Although the reasons for the ferry crash were not immediately known this evening, some passengers speculated that the high winds that buffeted the New York City area all day might have been a factor.

The crash occurred at 3:21 p.m., just before the afternoon rush hour. Tens of thousands of Staten Island-bound commuters were forced to seek alternative ways to get home tonight.

A Staten Island ferry trying to dock in high winds crashed into a terminal on Oct.15, 2003, killing at least five passengers and injuring scores of people, the New York fire department said.   [Reuters]
Robert Carroll, a 52-year old lawyer from Staten Island, said he was seated near the front left section of the ferry's lowest level, where the wooden beams ripped through the vessel.

``People are screaming and running all over each other,'' he said. ``We were running for our lives. The beams are coming directly at you, and the side of the boat is disappearing.

``They're ripping up steel, glass, chairs. People were falling. At one point I was in a pile, and I just got up and kept running. It kept coming and coming. If you didn't keep running, you were dead.''

Mr. Carroll added: ``We've all seen the movie Titanic, the boat scraping along the side of the glacier? Well, it was just like that.''

Passengers grabbed life vests as the ferry turned around and pulled back into the slip, he said.

A witness, Andre Lelong, 42, said he had gone to Staten Island to sightsee and was standing on the pier when he saw the ferry come in.

``It was approaching at a 45-degree angle, and did not seem to be slowing down.'' Mr. Lelong said. ``It was like a movie,'' he said. ``It hit the dock and took the entire right-hand forward side of the boat off.''

A passenger, Luis Melendez, said in an interview with the cable news channel NY1 that the boat was traveling unusually fast, ``about the same speed as it would in the middle of the harbor.'' He said that after the impact, the boat turned around and docked on the side that was not damaged, and that people went ashore from the top deck.

Another passenger, Paul Wiedeman, told NY1 that he had been at the rear of the boat. He said, ``A bunch of us were afraid the boat was going to sink,'' adding, ``The bottom of the boat started to cave in.''

It was not immediately known how many people were aboard the ferry. The 310-foot-long ferry can carry 6,000 passengers.

The Saint George Ferry terminal is operated by the New York City Department of Transportation. The trip, which is free, takes approximately 25 minutes between the Staten Island terminal and Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan.

The Staten Island Ferry operates several types of boats on the 5.2-mile run between Staten Island and Manhattan. A typical weekday schedule involves the use of five boats to transport some 65,000 passengers every day.

Because of the high winds in the New York City area, the director of operations for New York Water Taxi, James DeSimone, said its own boats, much smaller than the Staten Island ferries, had to suspend service at noon because ``between the wind and the chop it just got a little too bouncy.''

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