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Captain Tried to Slow Ferry Just Before Crash, Investigators Say

By Julie Shapiro and Irene Plagianos  on January 10, 2013 6:56pm

DOWNTOWN — The Seatreak commuter ferry that crashed into Pier 11 Wednesday morning, injuring dozens of people, failed to slow down as it approached the pier because of a mechanical failure — despite the skipper's best efforts to stop the ship, federal investigators said Thursday.

Captain James "Jay" Reimer tried to put the boat into reverse as he approached the Wall Street pier, which is how the crew usually slows down the ferry, but it didn't work, said Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

"As the boat was coming in, the captain found that the reverse thrust was not operating as anticipated," Sumwalt told reporters Thursday afternoon.

"As they are approaching the pier, they go into reverse to slow the vessel down, and that’s where he was having trouble."

Reimer had moved to the starboard, or right, side of the ferry, to dock the boat when he realized the reverse thrust wasn't working. He then quickly transferred control back to the central cole, but the procedure did not work there either.

After that, he went back to the starboard side and was still unable to slow the boat, Sumwalt said.

The ferry, which was carrying 343 commuters, was traveling at 10 to 12 knots, or about 12 miles per hour, when it slammed into a slip at Pier 11 about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, officials said.

Dozens of passengers went flying into the air, and 57 people were hurt, two critically, officials said.

At some point, both of the boat's diesel engines shut off, Reimer told investigators during an interview that lasted more than three hours on Thursday, though it was not clear if the shutdown occurred after the crash, Sumwalt said.

"It happened very fast," Reimer told the NTSB, according to Sumwalt.

The crew did not report any problems with steering, Sumwalt said.

It was not immediately clear if the vessel had previously had any problems with its reverse thrust, the NTSB said.

Seastreak has a troubled history of lawsuits and accidents, documents show.

After Wednesday's crash, the ferry's five crew members all passed Breathalyzer tests with 0 percent blood alcohol content, "just where we want to see it," Sumwalt said.

The NTSB is still waiting for the results of drug tests, which take longer, Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt added that the crew members are cooperating with the investigation.

“Each of the crew members are shaken," he said. "They are very concerned about the accident."

Reimer, 36, is Seastreak's most experienced captain, with 17 years of working on ferries, including 12 years as a captain, the NTSB said.

The NTSB is looking for people who witnessed the accident or have photos or video. Witnesses can email witness@ntsb.gov.

With reporting by Mary Johnson

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