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NTSB Launches Investigation Into Ferry Crash as Commuters Return to Waters

By  Trevor Kapp and Aidan Gardiner | January 10, 2013 11:40am 

DOWNTOWN — The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a formal investigation into the ferry crash that left dozens of passengers hurt, as undeterred commuters hit the waters Thursday in an effort to return to normalcy.

An 11-member team of investigators will begin interviewing the five-member crew who was operating the Pier 11/Wall Street ferry when it crashed into a dock at Pier 11 Wednesday morning.

"Today's gonna be a very busy day for us and a big day," said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt Thursday. "We're going to be conducting the crew interviews, and we figure it'll take about two hours for each interview — so a long day of finding out first-hand what those crew members experienced."

Sumwalt added that members of the NTSB didn't interview the crew members immediately after the accident because they wanted to give them time to "get their thoughts together and be well rested before they meet with us."

"It's stressful for them as well," he said.

Friends of the ferry's captain, James "Jay" Reimer, said he is a hard worker with a lifelong love for the sea.

"He's a level-headed guy," said Lillian Renna, 67, who has known Reimer's family in the Highlands since childhood. "When I heard it was him, I said, 'It's nothing to do with him. It has to do with the boat. Something must've happened with the ferry.'"

Investigators plan to stay in the city between five to seven days, and the probe into the crash could last up to a year.

"In the early stages of something like this, there's a lot of misinformation," Sumwalt said. 

The fast-moving Seastreak ferry was pulling into the pier about 8:45 a.m. — going between 10 to 12 knots, or about 12 miles per hour — when it missed its intended slip and slammed into another, slicing its starboard bow.

Of the 343 passengers and five crew members aboard, 57 of them were hurt, two critically, officials said Wednesday.

Though the cause of the accident was still under investigation, preliminary findings indicate that it was not caused by human error but by a mechanical malfunction, according to sources.

Those sources did not specify what kind of malfunction it was or where on the vessel it occurred.

The ferry's engines were replaced last summer as part of an effort to reduce harmful emissions, officials said, but it's unclear if they were involved in the crash.

On Thursday morning, another Seastreak ferry pulled into the dock, this time carrying a few dozen passengers.

The commuters aboard the ferry didn't seem bothered by Wednesday's crash.

"It was very pleasant. I enjoyed it," said Dana Jackson, 53, as she disembarked the ferry. "Everyone was very nice. It was like nothing happened."

But there was one change.

"They gave a warning when we pulled in: Stay seated," said Brad Finklestein, 50. "They don't usually do that."

Seastreak LLC, which runs the ferry service, has a troubled history fraught with accidents, lawsuits, and bankruptcy, documents show. In August 2009, one of the vessels tore a 2- to 3-foot hole in its starboard bow when it struck a pier while docking at East 35th Street.

A year later, two ferries ran aground in New Jersey just a day apart.

Seastreak said that it was cooperating fully with investigators.

"We are simply shocked and stunned that this happened," the company said in a statement online. "We know passengers rely on us to provide safe transit on our boats, and safety is the number one concern for our company.

"We are very sorry this accident occurred."