NTSB: NJ Ferry Crisis Left No Time to Warn Riders

The preliminary findings of the National Transportation Safety Board were released Friday

The head of a crew scrambling to gain control of a high-speed ferry before it crashed into a Manhattan pier reported having no time to warn hundreds of passengers, federal investigators said Friday.

The preliminary factual account by the National Transportation Safety Board recounted the hectic moments aboard the vessel before it crashed last month, injuring 85 people, one person seriously.

According to the report, the Seastreak Wall Street ferry left Atlantic Highlands, N.J., at 8:02 a.m. on Jan. 9 with 326 passengers aboard for its second trip of the day. The boat's master, one of five crew members, reduced the speed of the 131-foot-long vessel as it approached Pier 11 in Manhattan from 30 knots to 12 knots, the speed it was going when it hit crashed.

The NTSB said the problem arose when he attempted to gain better visibility of the dock and his crew handling docking duties by transferring propulsion control of the boat from a central console to one on the starboard, or right, side of the vessel. The thrust controls there did not respond and he immediately returned to the central console, where they weren't working either, and then back to the starboard controls, where they still did not work, the transportation agency said.

Afterwards, the starboard-side of the boat struck the dock, injuring one passenger seriously and causing minor injuries to 83 passengers and one crew member, the NTSB said.

After the crash, passengers told reporters that they were not warned beforehand that the crash was going to occur, a subject addressed by the NTSB report.

"The master told investigators that the event happened quickly and that he did not have time to issue a warning to the passengers over the onboard public address system or sound the danger signal," the NTSB said.

Afterwards, the boat's two main engines stopped working and the master instructed a crew member to restart them, which he did successfully, the agency said. It added that propulsion control worked properly when the engines were restarted and the master was able to guide the boat to a slip, where emergency personnel were already waiting to tend to the injured.

At least one passenger reported after the crash that a ferry employee had told her that the boat's captains had been complaining lately about the ferry's maneuverability.

Built in 2003, the boat underwent modifications last February to its main engines and propulsion system. The NTSB said four main engines were replaced with two diesel engines operating at the time of the accident. It said water jets were replaced with controllable pitch propellers and new helm controls were installed in the wheelhouse. The ferry was restored to service after a Coast Guard inspection on July 24.

The NTSB said the boat sustained damage to the starboard side of the bow and had debris in its portside propeller, along with a broken window on the bottom of a staircase and two windows on doors leading to the aft deck.

The agency said it is aided in its probe by data from the boat's main engines and closed-circuit television, as well as from Vessel Traffic Service in New York. It said investigators conducted extensive testing of the ferry's propulsion system and interviewed crew members and passengers. Alcohol tests on crew members were negative and drug test results were being awaited. A week ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed an initial underwater survey of the approach to Pier 11, though the results were not yet known.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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