At least 10 people have died and 34 have been injured after a ferry operating across New York City harbour crashed as it came into dock at Staten Island during high winds.
Accident investigators are working into the night
The boat hit enormous pilings at St George's Terminal, which ripped through the vessel leaving a mass of splintered wood, steel and glass.
Witnesses described how people's limbs were torn off as they tried desperately to move out of the way - others dived into the harbour to escape the debris.
"It's a terrible tragedy," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "People who were on their way home suddenly taken from us."
Police sources were quoted as saying the ferry pilot fled the scene immediately, and was later taken from his Staten Island home to hospital after an apparent suicide attempt.
Mr Bloomberg refused to speculate on what caused the crash - saying that a full investigation is under way.
He said all the crew members were being interviewed and the usual drug and alcohol tests would be carried out.
"There is no indication that this is anything other than a terrible accident," he told reporters.
STATEN ISLAND FERRY
93 metres (310 feet) long
Carries up to 6,000 passengers
Travels at about 30 km/h (18 mph)
Provides free ride from Staten Island to Lower Manhattan
Fleet of five boats carry 70,000 people a day
104 daily trips between the two boroughs
"There is no reason whatsoever to believe this was done by any outside factor other than perhaps high winds."
The incident occurred around 1500 local time (1900 GMT), just before the city's rush hour, as the Staten Island ferry came in to St George's Terminal from lower Manhattan.
Some witnesses said the ferry appeared to be going too fast, and came into dock at an unusual angle.
The pilings hit the ferry's main deck and crashed through windows into the main seating area.
"People were running and these beams were just coming in, following behind them and you could see some people were not going to make it," said passenger Bob Carroll to New York's NY1 news.
As well as amputations, victims suffered trauma injuries and hypothermia. At least one body was pulled from the water.
Ferry services were suspended while emergency teams worked into the evening digging through the wreckage in their search for victims.
"It's a mess in there," said one fireman at the scene carrying a saw.
Victims were taken to Staten Island University Hospital and St Vincent's Hospital.
Ferry services across New York harbour were suspended
Robert Dubicki, president of St Vincent's hospital, said 22 people were admitted and around half had since been discharged.
"We have three patients in our operating room right now," he said. "We treated one patient for hypothermia but most of the injuries were blunt trauma and penetrating trauma."
More than 70,000 passengers a day take the free 25-minute ferry ride into Manhattan, while tourists use it to see the city's Statue of Liberty.
The authorities hope to have ferry services up and running again in time for the Thursday morning rush hour.
1. Ferry approaches the St George Ferry Terminal. Witnesses say the boat was travelling faster than normal, and was on an unusual course
2. Ferry hits maintenance pier. Long pilings on the pier tear through the boat's lower deck
3. Ferry is reversed into berth at the terminal; emergency crews arrive to assist the injured
Do you use the Staten Island ferry? How have you been affected by the disaster? Send is your comments using the postform below.
I was on the Staten Island ferry last month during a trip to New York. At the time I was concerned about the lack of security when boarding the vessel, and was really worried that with up to 6000 people on board it could easily be a target for terrorists. When I first saw the breaking news last night I was terrified that that was what had happened. I'm so glad it wasn't, but it is still a terrible tragedy in a city which has suffered enough in the last couple of years. Once gain my prayers are for the people of NYC.
I used the free ferry service for more than eight months while I was working as an intern on Staten Island. The lovely ride back and forth always relaxed me and made the day feel good. Sympathies to the families of those killed or hurt... Hope people will be able to feel confident about continuing to use this lovely service.
Sahir Siddiqui, Singapore
I lived in Brooklyn Heights for three years so every day I would see the Staten Island ferry chugging back and forth. Having been raised on the banks of the River Mersey and regularly using the Mersey Ferry from my hometown of Birkenhead, I was always amazed by the skill of the Pilots and crew in manoeuvring these huge vessels into dock. A tragic accident I hope won't be repeated.
I am going to New York next Tuesday (21st) and although the ferry crash was a terrible tragedy, it will not deter me. The city of New York has been through so much in the last few years, but it always comes out so much stronger. I just pray that nothing ever happens like this again
Natalie Gillett, England
The night view, coming back from Staten Island was, I always thought one of the most fantastic sights in the world, lights blinking across the bay, towers lit up like huge ice cream cones signalling the splendour of Manhattan. I used the ferry twice and have fond memories of its simplicity, frequency and cheap rate. It's this sort of tragedy that makes you think "That could have so easily been me" - my prayers are with the families today. God Bless you all.
Tim Penrose, United Kingdom
My fiancÚ Peter and I were in New York only three weeks ago; we stayed on Staten Island and travelled on the ferry every morning and evening...it was the highlight of our trip...with amazing views of the Statue of Liberty and each evening watching the lights of Manhattan as we headed back across on the ferry. We were both very shocked to hear of the accident and our thoughts are with the people involved and their families.
I have used the Staten Island ferry on a recent trip to the USA and never thought twice that it could be remotely dangerous. Living on the Isle of Wight means using short ferry crossings regularly and a tragedy like this makes you think that this kind of accident could easily happen here. My heart goes out to the people involved and i will be thinking of you all.
Martin Henstridge, UK
I have just move to Cape Town from New York, getting on and off the Staten Island ferry is just part and parcel of life in New York. I cant begin to image how those people felt its tragic. The views of the great island that some many people call home are stunning and not to mention the statue of liberty. My heart goes out to everyone that has been affected. Head up New York!
Guy Lewis, South Africa
I lived in New York for a while a few years back and used the ferry on many occasions. I never experienced any problems and everyone was so nice. My heart goes out to all those hurt and the families of those killed, New York is a great city with fine people.
Lorraine Cheyne, Scotland
I have used this ferry a couple of times when we have visited the great city of New York and have fond memories of it and the views it offers. My heart goes out to all those affected in any way and my family and I are thinking of you all...
Gareth Simpson, UK
I used the Staten Island ferry regularly when I was living in New York and never had any qualms or worries whatsoever. It has to be one of the most spectacular commutes in the world.
Deborah Rodwell, United Kingdom
I used to live in NYC for more than 10 years and have been on the ferry many times. There's a beautiful view from the outside deck onto lower Manhattan as well as the Statue of Liberty. It is a tragedy what has happened to so many innocent people. I myself have never felt that anything should be improved on the ferries themselves or the service.
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