'Death Ride' Kills At Least 10
By Glenn Thrush
October 15, 2003, 10:14 PM EDT
A Staten Island-bound ferry slammed into the St. George terminal just before rush hour Wednesday, killing at least 10 passengers and injuring about 50 in what one survivor called a "death ride."
The 310-foot "Andrew J. Barberi," carrying as many as 1,500 passengers from lower Manhattan, crashed into a slip at 3:20 p.m. after apparently failing to slow down during docking manuevers, according to city officials and eyewitnesses.
The cause of the crash remained unknown Wednesday night. One of the boat's two captains, Richard Smith of Staten Island, drove to his house and tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists and shooting himself with a pellet gun shortly after the accident, according to police sources. He was in critical condition at St. Vincent's Hospital Staten Island, officials said.
Police sources Wednesday night said Smith had lost consciousness in the moments before the crash, but it was not clear why.
"All of a sudden I heard this explosion," said Paul Wiedemann, a lawyer who was dozing on the ferry as it hit the dock. "I saw pieces of the boat falling apart and people running to the back of the boat... I saw the wood and things coming through the boat."
The 3,300-ton ferry barrelled into the pier with such force it instantly crushed to death some people on the main deck and tore limbs from some near the bulkhead.
"It was chaos," said passenger Frank Corchado, 29, an elevator mechanic who helped others after the crash and was treated for trauma at St. Vincent's. "It was just people everywhere, bodies everywhere on top of bodies."
The massive pier ripped a jagged hole that extended halfway along the the vessel's hull, shattering a row of windows a few feet above the waterline and peeling the steel bulkhead like a sardine can.
Corchado said he helped pull chairs off one injured man. "I held him in my arms and I tried to stop the bleeding," said Corchado, who had blood on his pants. "I don't know if he died. We tried to stop the bleeding."
An ashen-faced Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived on Staten Island via helicopter after being whisked from Yankee Stadium where he was attending the American League Championship Series. "It's a terrible tragedy. People who were on their way home were all of a sudden taken from us."
Passenger Luis Melendez, a senior clerk at a Manhattan brokerage firm, said, "There was some people standing on the front and all of a sudden I see two or three guys run back saying 'We're going to hit, we're going to hit.'
"No sooner than they start running back, I started seeing the right side of the boat opening up like a can and there's debris flying all over the place, glass, metal, wood. Whoever was sitting on that side, if they didn't react right away, they were buried or they were severely lacerated."
Twenty-seven people were taken to Staten Island University Hospital. Seven had serious injuries, including severed limbs, spinal cord injuries, chest wounds and fractures, according to hospital officials. Three required surgery.
At St. Vincent's, three people were in critical condition and two were in serious condition, hospital officals said. Seven people were treated and released, and 10 were under observation Wednesday night.
"Say a little prayer for the deceased and those fighting in the hospital," Bloomberg said.
Speaking early in the evening, the mayor downplayed the report that the captain had fled the scene and cautioned against drawing conclusions before investigators completed their work.
The crew members were being interviewed by police and tested for drugs and alchohol, Bloomberg added.
Bloomberg said the 45-mph winds raking New York Harbor at the time may have contributed to the accident. National Transportation Safety Board officials were heading to the scene to lead the investigation, a spokesman for that agency said.
There was "no indication" that the crash was related to terrorism, and the boat, which sustained no damage below the waterline, isn't in danger of sinking, Bloomberg said.
The ferry's second captain, John Mauldin, remained at the scene and is cooperating with investigators, police sources said.
Surviving passengers said the boat, which was commissioned in 1981, didn't seem to slow down as it approached its berth. "There was no deceleration at all," Wiedemann said.
T.J. Stiles, 39, had taken his twin 15-year-old niece and nephew for a ride from Manhattan when he felt the boat shudder and saw a ghostly cloud of concrete dust rise from the pier.
"This is their 24 hours in New York and they're on a death ride," he said.
When the boat came to a stop, passengers began grabbing life vests and scambling toward the bow in a panicked rush for safety.
"I heard this crash and then everyone started running and screaming and were running toward the back of the boat," said Stiles' niece, Kevyn Stokes, who was vacationing from Colorado Springs. "Someone shoved me and people were pushing on our backs... There wasn't any organized evacuation."
Witnesses said survivors waited aboard the boat for 30 minutes as pilots manuevered the crippled craft to another berth and began unloading the dead and injured.
As passengers began climbing ashore, emergency crews began "cutting out areas that collapsed in, removing victims and triaging," said Arthur Parinello, the treasurer of the Uniformed Fire Officers Union, who rushed to the scene.
"It's almost like a movie," he said as he watched firefighters work. "The damage is severe."
At least one person was recovered from the water. Workers were still freeing corpses from the wreckage at 6:30 p.m., placing the bodies at a makeshift morgue in the terminal's parking lot.
Bloomberg urged worried relatives to call 311 for information. The city Office of Emergency Management was setting up a center to deal with grieving families, according to Commissioner John Odermatt.
The accident turned a routine evening commute into a nightmare for the 30,000 people who depend on the ferry each day. The city suspended ferry service at 3:50 p.m., running express buses from the lower Manhattan Whitehall ferry terminal and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to Staten Island.
As the rush hour dragged on, hundreds of passengers were still stranded in the Manhattan terminal, and the Verrazzano Bridge was jammed with traffic.
City Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall said ferry service would be restored in time for the Thursday morning rush hour.
The crash was the worst accident to befall the ferry in recent years but not the only mishap.
On Feb. 23, 1996, the ferry "Gov. Herbert H. Lehman" rammed the Staten Island pilings in a fog, injuring 27 people, none critically.
On Sept. 19, 1997, a car plunged off the Barberi as it was docking in Staten Island, causing minor injuries to the driver and a deckhand who was knocked overboard by the car.
Ten months later, the Barberi's sister ship, the "S.I. Newhouse," slammed into the Whitehall slip in rough seas, injuring 10 people slightly.
The ferry, which shuttles 65,000 passengers on five boats each day, has been operated by the city since 1901. Ferries have been continuously navigating the 6.2 miles from the tip of Manhattan to Staten Island since 1713.
The worst maritime accident in the city's history occurred 99 years ago, when the steamboat "General Slocum" foundered in the East River, killing about 1,000 passengers.
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The Crazy part is that i was on that ferry and the window was jammed threw my hand and i got 66 sitches on my arm today i was coming home from boxing in Mannhatten the whole second floor colpased on the first floor and i cut up on my face i would send you a pic but i dont have a distal camera
my hand herts so fvkin much
the good part is i dont have to go to school for a month