NTSB source: Captain says he couldn't slow ferry before crash

A high-speed ferry loaded with hundreds of commuters from New Jersey crashed into a dock in lower Manhattan on Wednesday during the morning rush hour, injuring around 50 people, at least two critically. AP video. (Jan. 9)

The captain of the high-speed ferry that slammed into a pier in lower Manhattan, injuring more than 80 passengers, told federal investigators Thursday that his attempts to slow the boat were foiled due to mechanical failure, a National Transportation Safety Board member said.

Jason Reimer, 36, who has 17 years of experience working on ferries, including 12 as a captain, was at the controls of the Seastreak Wall Street during the Wednesday morning commute crash.

Reimer told investigators he tried three times to slow the ferry by reversing its thrusters. The vessel's propulsion system had been retrofitted about a year ago, the NTSB said.

Reimer said both of the ferry's diesel engines stopped working at one point, but he still had the ability to steer, Robert L. Sumwalt, an NTSB board member, said at a news conference Thursday.

"The captain reported that the vessel would not respond to his reverse thrust command as anticipated," Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt gave a summary of the investigators' interview of Reimer, which occurred Thursday morning and lasted more than three hours:

Reimer said he was rested when he reported to work at 5:30 a.m. at Atlantic Highlands, N.J., for a 6 a.m. trip to Pier 11, and then on to Pier 35 and back to New Jersey. The crash occurred at 8:41 a.m. on his second trip to Manhattan's South Street Seaport.

While preparing to dock the Seastreak Wall Street at Pier 11 with 326 passengers and crew aboard, Reimer said, he switched the control of the boat to the starboard command console, which is standard procedure for better visibility.

When he attempted to engage the thrusters to slow the boat, nothing happened. Reimer said he then transferred control from the starboard control back to the center controls, and again tried to engage the reverse thrusters but again got no response.

Reimer made a third attempt to slow the ferry by transferring control back to the starboard wing of the bridge. That's when the 140-foot ferry slammed into the dock, sending passengers tumbling.

"The event, according to him, happened so quickly he only had time to try to reverse the thrust," Sumwalt said. "We're working to refine the timeline of the sequence of events."

The NTSB also put out a call Thursday for cellphone video or witnesses of the crash to contact investigators by sending email to witness@ntsb.gov.

Investigators will check cellphone records of the crew, Sumwalt said.

Two passengers were left in critical condition after the crash, and 11 people suffered serious injuries, according to the FDNY.

With Igor Kossov

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