At least 74 injured in commuter ferry allision in Manhattan

A commuter ferry packed with 326 passengers and five crewmembers crashed into a dock at Manhattan’s Pier 11, near Wall Street around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, injuring 74. At least two were critically injured, one of whom was rushed to surgery with severe head trauma and bleeding after falling down a flight of stairs. Nine people were in serious condition.

Aerial footage showed people strapped to stretchers, their heads and necks immobilized, with emergency response crews swarming the ferry and surrounding areas.

The force of the crash tossed some morning commuters in the air and sent others tumbling down stairs, witnesses said. As investigators and officials, including New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, surveyed the damage, a large gash was visible in the ferry’s starboard bow.

The vessel was operated by Seastreak and originated from Highland, N.J., around 8 a.m. Seastreak provides daily service from Atlantic Highlands and Highlands in New Jersey to Lower Manhattan. The boat involved in the crash, the Seastreak Wall Street, can accommodate 505 passengers and crew, according to the company’s Web site.

The vessel is 140 feet long and 30 feet wide, and may have been involved in past docking accidents. In August 2009, according to Coast Guard incident reports, the Seastreak Wall Street received a two-to-three-foot tear in its starboard bow after a dock crash at East 35th Street. And in January 2010, the ferry “hit a cluster of fender piles” at the Sandy Hook Bay Marina in Highlands, N.J., “resulting in a hole being punched through the skin of the ship,” the Coast Guard report at the time said. No one was injured in either of the previous incidents.

The cause of Wednesday’s allision was not immediately clear, though officials said the ferry had been traveling at over 10 miles per hour just before the crash – well above the pace of its typical crawl into the dock. Weather conditions were normal Wednesday morning, and no mariner warnings had been posted.

According to James Barker, Seastreak’s president, the ferry’s captain was at the controls when the vessel crashed. Barker said the captain had passed a breathalyzer test, and authorities were still waiting for results of a drug test taken in accordance with federal regulation. There have been no reports of pollution or flooding as a result of the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board launched a full investigation into the incident, and was working with the Coast Guard. The NTSB said it would interview the captain and crew Thursday and examine the propulsion and steering systems, among other possible factors in the crash.