The captain of the commuter ferry that crashed into a Wall Street pier during the morning rush Wednesday, injuring more than 70 people, told investigators that its thrust controls were not responding properly just before impact, officials said Thursday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the 36-year-old captain told investigators during a three-hour interview that as he attempted to move the ferry's thrust control into reverse while preparing to dock at Pier 11, the vessel did not respond as anticipated.
The captain told the NTSB that the control failure happened very quickly, and at some point, both diesel engines also shut off. He reported no problem with the ferry's steering, the NTSB said.
The captain and his crew "were shaken and very concerned about the accident,'' said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt. "They've been very forthright and cooperative.''
The ferry had recently undergone a major overhaul that gave it new engines and a new propulsion system, and officials are looking into whether they played any role in the accident.
The catamaran Seastreak Wall Street had slowed following a routine trip across New York Bay and past the Statue of Liberty when the boat had a hard landing at the pier, knocking passengers off their feet. A total of 74 people were injured.
Two people were critically hurt -- one with a head injury, and they were in stable condition Thursday. No passengers were thrown into the water, officials said.
The naval architecture firm that designed the reconfiguration, Incat Crowther, said in an August news release that the ferry's water-jet propulsion system had been replaced with a new system of propellers and rudders to save fuel costs and cut carbon dioxide pollution in half. James Barker, the chairman of the ferry's owner, Seastreak LLC, said the overhaul made it "the greenest ferry in America."
The hull was reworked, and the boat was made 15 metric tons lighter. At top speed, the ferry, built in 2003, travels at around 35 knots, or 40 mph.
Seastreak spokesman Bob Dorn, asked whether the work had hurt the ferry's maneuverability or caused pilots any problems, said it would be up to the NTSB to determine if the new equipment played any role.
Dee Wertz, who was on shore waiting for the ferry, saw the impact. She said that just moments before the ferry hit, she had been having a conversation with a ferry employee about how the boat's captains had been complaining lately about its maneuverability.
"He was telling me that none of these guys like this boat," she said. "It was coming in a little wobbly. It hit the right side of the boat on the dock hard, like a bomb."
Some passengers were bloodied after they banged into walls and toppled to the floor.
"We were pulling into the dock. The boat hit the dock. We just tumbled on top of each other. I got thrown into everybody else. ... People were hysterical, crying," said Ellen Foran, of Neptune City, N.J.
Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said the ferry was coming in at 10 to 12 knots, or about 11 to 15 mph, when it struck one slip and then hit a second.
"I was talking to somebody and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground," said Ashley Furman, who said she was thrown 6 feet and knocked out.
Police said the boat's crew passed alcohol breath tests given after the crash, and the NTSB said blood alcohol tests also came back at 0 percent. Drug testing will take longer.
Officials identified the captain as Jason Reimer, an experienced seaman. In a 2004 profile in Newsday, Reimer said he had joined Seastreak as a deckhand in 1997 and became a captain three years later at age 23. Barker called him "a great guy."
The Seastreak Wall Street has been in minor accidents before. Coast Guard records said the ferry hit a cluster of fender piles while docking in 2010, punching a small hole in the ship's skin. In 2009, it suffered another tear on the bow after another minor docking collision. No one was injured in either of those mishaps.