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Ten dead, dozens hospitalised after New York ferry hits dock

Wednesday, 15-Oct-2003 8:00PM PDT
    
Story from AFP / Giles Hewitt
Copyright 2003 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

NEW YORK, Oct 15 (AFP) - A ferry packed with commuters slammed into a pier Wednesday in New York, killing at least 10 people and causing horrific injuries as the side of the vessel was peeled open by pilings lining the dock.

"This is a terrible tragedy ... people on their way home all of a sudden taken from us," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said from the scene of the accident on the Staten Island shoreline.


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The precise cause of the crash was unclear, although eyewitnesses noted the windy conditions.

Bloomberg confirmed 10 dead with 34 passengers hospitalised, but added that the numbers could change given the seriousness of some of the injuries sustained by those on the main deck of the three-tier ferry Andrew J. Barbieri.

"People who were sitting there as the ferry docked were hit by the pilings that came through the side of the boat," the mayor said.

Fire department officials said some passengers lost limbs in the crash, which occurred around 3:30 pm (1930 GMT) as the ferry was docking at Staten Island after making a regular 25-minute commuter trip from the southern tip of Manhattan.

Passengers said the ferry hit the dock at speed and pilings punctured the right side of the vessel, shattering windows and ripping open the outer structure.

"Everybody jumped for their lives," said commuter Bob Carroll.

"The whole side of the boat looked like a can opener had been taken to it. If I had been sitting on the right side of the boat, I'd have been dead. You could see some people were not going to make it."

Local television reported that the ship's pilot had attempted to commit suicide after the crash. Hospital officials confirmed that he had undergone surgery but refused to comment on the cause of his injuries.

According to the official Staten Island Ferry website, the vessel was commissioned in 1981.

It was not immediately clear exactly how many people were on board at the time of the crash, although an average trip usually carries around 1,500 commuters.

"I heard what sounded like an explosion and my first thought was that it was a bomb," said another passenger, retired police sergeant Paul Wiedemann.

"The structure of the boat was ripped open about half or three-quarters of the way down. It seemed that the boat didn't slow down and then the lower side appeared to cave in."

The New York weather office had issued a "wind warning" for Wednesday, with heavy gusts blowing across the city's waterways.

"There are clearly heavy winds out there, but whether they contributed to the accident it is too early to tell," Bloomberg said.

He said a full investigation has been launched.

Robert Dubicki, president of St. Vincent's hospital on Staten Island, said 22 people had been admitted, of whom half had since been discharged.

"We have three patients in our operating room right now," Dubicki told CNN. "We treated one patient for hypothermia but most of the injuries were blood trauma and penetrating trauma."

A hotline was set up for those who believed family members might have been on the ferry, and some with missing relatives came down to the crash site.

It's frightening. I don't know where she's at," said Tina Morrison, who thought her teen-age daughter was among the passengers. "I don't know what happened to her. She's not home."

New York Governor George Pataki described the crash as a "heartbreaking tragedy."

It was the worst accident in the ferry service's 98-year history. A similar incident in 1995 injured 18, but none died.

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