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57 hurt in NYC ferry crash

2:34 PM, Jan 9, 2013   |    comments
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by John Bacon and Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY

NEW YORK -- A high-speed commuter ferry slammed into a Lower Manhattan dock Wednesday, injuring 57 people, authorities said.

Fire Department Commissioner Sal Cassano said two people were critically injured and that many of the injured were taken to hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn. There were 326 people on board, including five crewmembers, when the ferry struck the dock at about 12 mph, he said.

"We just tumbled on top of each other," said passenger Ellen Foran, 57, of Neptune City, N.J. "I got thrown into everybody else. ... People were hysterical, crying."

Cassano said fire officials responded within three minutes of receiving the call. On the scene, 155 firefighters and emergency medical technicians assessed patients.

The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Officer Sophia Tassy, a spokeswoman for the NYPD, said the Seastreak Wall Street ferry, a commuter run from New Jersey to lower Manhattan along the East River, crashed during a hard landing around 8:43 a.m ET. The ferry, which left Highlands, N.J., at 8 a.m., actually struck a loading barge that it was passing while trying to dock, Seastreak President James Barker told New York's WNBC-TV.

"There was a jolt when that occurred, throwing the people forward into their seats and the walls," Barker told the station.

A statement on the Seastreak Facebook page said the vessel's crew "immediately initiated emergency response procedures and authorities responded quickly."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured. Seastreak LLC will work closely with the Federal, State and local authorities to determine the cause of the accident," the statement said.

Some patients were carried out strapped to stretchers, their heads and necks immobilized. About a dozen passengers on stretchers were spread out on the dock, surrounded by emergency workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on the scene.

Passenger Frank McLaughlin, 46, said he was thrown forward and wrenched his knee in the impact. He said some other passengers were bloodied when they banged into walls and toppled to the floor.

Dee Wertz, who was on shore waiting for the ferry, saw the impact.

"It was coming in a little wobbly," she said. "It hit the right side of the boat on the dock hard, like a bomb."

The waterside area in downtown Manhattan quickly filled with police, firefighters, transportation workers and media. News helicopters were flying overhead.

"You'd have to suspect there was negligence," involved in this accident, says maritime attorney John Hession, who was a lead maritime counsel for litigation after a 2003 Staten island ferry crash that killed 11 people.

Hession stressed that he doesn't know all the facts, but said that he thinks negligence would be a factor since it was a relatively clear day and the ferry was equipped with modern equipment that would help to avoid a major collision.

The Seastreak ferry service offers high-speed catamaran services to points in Manhattan from central New Jersey with a fleet of five ferries, the company says on its website. Four of the ferries have capacities of up to 400 passengers and one with capacity of up to 149 passengers.

The ferry is considered high-end. It has a bar on board and costs a bit more than most ferries.

Contributing: Yamiche Alcindor; Laura Petrecca; Associated Press

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