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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
NYC ferry crash probe begins
Emergency services try to console a passenger
Witnesses have described horrific scenes
American investigators have begun questioning witnesses and crew about a ferry crash in New York that left 10 dead and 34 injured.

The inquiry is set to focus on the condition of the ferry's pilot who is reported to have lost consciousness just before Wednesday's accident.

Ellen Engleman, head of the National Transportation Safety Board which is leading the investigation, said their final report could take as long as a year to complete.

The boat hit enormous pilings at St George's Terminal on Staten Island, 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.

Ferry services have resumed after being suspended while emergency teams worked into the evening digging through the wreckage in their search for victims.

Key factors

The pilot, Richard Jeffrey Smith, reportedly passed out after failing to take tablets for high blood pressure.

When he regained consciousness he accidentally shifted the vessel into high speed as it came into dock, media reports quoted unnamed police sources.
Staten Island Ferry. Archive picture.
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

He allegedly ran from the scene to his Staten Island home where he tried to slit his wrists and shot himself in the chest with a pellet gun.

Mr Smith had emergency surgery and remains in critical condition, a hospital spokesman said.

"All of that will be part of the formal investigation. Those are key factors," Ms Engleman said when asked about the reports.

"We'll conduct personal interviews with those involved. We have a very deliberate and precise procedure. The folks on the bridge are obviously key to this," she said.

The crash happened around 1500 local time (1900 GMT) on Wednesday, 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.

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.

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.

In nearly 100 years of operation this tragedy is the first to take lives
Rich Fill, New York, USA
Living in New York City all my life I often ride the ferry just to enjoy the great free trip across the harbour. It is one of the City's great attractions. I would not be worried about taking it at all. In nearly one hundred years of operation this tragedy is the first to take lives. Considering some of the recent ferry disasters in Europe and other countries that have taken a far greater toll in lives the Staten Island Ferry is one of the safest modes of public transportation in the world as well as being one of the most scenic trips on public transportation.
Rich Fill, New York, USA

Ferry accident in New York, 10 dead, 34 injured, major news. Ferry accident in Bangladesh, regular occurrence, no message board. I'm not pointing the finger at people as I was also more shocked by last night's accident then any of the accidents that have had happened in the sub continent. I should be more shocked at the values we hold.
Roberto Candeggia, Italy

Yesterday the winds here in New York were unusually strong, upwards of 40 mph, and on my own ferry ride from lower Manhattan into Hoboken I noticed some very strong currents. I'm surprised neither the winds nor the currents have even been mentioned as a possible partial cause.
Brendan, New Jersey, USA

I am so sad to hear about the ferry accident. I used the same ferry service a few times when I was living in NYC for 6 months last year. I felt safe and relax and love the view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from the ferry. I hope this free service will continue to operate despite what happened. My heart once again goes out to the lovely, friendly and amazing people of NYC.
Walter Rajah, England

I have taken the ferry probably over 100 times and I was totally shocked at the news. The ferry normally travels so slow that I couldn't imagine how any crash could possibly hurt anyone. It was incredibly windy here yesterday, unfortunately the likely cause of the tragedy.
Rob, Staten Island, NY

Was this an accident waiting to happen?
Raymond Clayton, England
Last week, while on holiday to the US, we took a trip on the Staten Island ferry at dusk to view the approach to Manhattan in the dark. The view of the lights was superb. I noticed that we were approaching the dock at a very sharp angle. I was filming with my camcorder at the time and commented that the pilot "would have to make a very sharp left turn ... but never mind he would know what he was doing!!" As it happens he scraped the side of the wooden dock. There was a jolt or two but nothing too serious. However the resultant excruciating noise was quite alarming. It does make me think, was this an accident waiting to happen?
Raymond Clayton, England

My twin sons were on the ferry that crashed into the pier yesterday. They phoned me at 8.30pm UK time from their mobile phone. I could hear the sirens and shouts and screams in the background. They are both okay, they were on the top deck and managed to hold on during the impact. They are just two tourists on an ordinary day out in NY - but this has not deterred them. They are enjoying themselves again today and realise how luck they are. They just want to send their good wishes to the injured and bereaved.
Christine Kearney, UK

My friend and I were on the ferry as tourists just two days ago! We went downstairs and stood right at the front on the outside deck and commented that the ferry was going very fast, we stood there and took in the fantastic views of Manhattan by night. I can't believe this has happened so soon after. A tragedy to such a glorious city once again.
Sue, UK

I live on north shore of Staten Island, and take the ferry twice daily. I'm afraid it will be a long time before the anxiety dissipates for those people who have no choice but to commute by boat. Our confidence in the crews is very shaken - why was there only one pilot in the wheelhouse? If this was the policy, or if an "arrangement" between crew members made it so, this was an accident waiting to happen.
Ryan Alford, USA

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.
Gordon, Scotland

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.
Will Oulton, UK

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

It's this sort of tragedy that makes you think "That could have so easily been me"
Tim Penrose, United Kingdom
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.
Gaynor Fisher, England

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.
Gabor Perenyi, Hungary

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The BBC's Jane Standley
"A chunk of the terminal is gone"

Witnesses describe ferry panic
16 Oct 03  |  Americas
In pictures: Staten Island ferry accident
16 Oct 03  |  Photo Gallery

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