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Staten Island Ferry Accident Is City's Worst In A Century

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Wednesday afternoon’s Staten Island ferry accident was the worst accident in the ferry’s 98-year history.

Ten people were killed and dozens more injured when the ferry crashed into a slip on Staten Island as it tried to dock shortly before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The crash was the worst ferry disaster in the city in more than 100 years.

Accidents and deaths have been few since the city began regular ferry service in 1905, taking over for a number of private outfits that didn't pay much attention to safety. In 1871, more than 125 people died when the boiler on one of those unregulated ferries blew up as it was preparing to leave Lower Manhattan for Staten Island.

The Department of Transportation takes pride in vessels that make up the ferry fleet. In fact, on its website, it boasts that it is the most reliable form of mass transit.

Up until Wednesday's tragedy, the worst ferry accident came in 1981, when a Norwegian freighter and a ferry bound for Manhattan collided in dense fog, injuring more than 60 of the ferry's 2,300 passengers. Three people were hospitalized but no one died. The ferry was able to limp back to port with a hole 30-feet long and three levels high in its side.

There was a rash of accidents in the mid-90s.

In 1995, nine people were injured when a Staten Island-bound Ferry pulled away from the Lower Manhattan terminal while passengers were still boarding.

A year later, a ferry docking at St. George's Terminal, the same terminal involved in Wednesday’s crash, smashed into pilings in fog-shrouded waters, sending 27 people to hospitals.

In that incident, the ferry was trying to dock when it suddenly rammed into the pilings. Several passengers were thrown about the ferry, and some suffered cuts and bruises, but none of the injuries was considered serious. Officials have said the ferries often brush against the pilings while docking.

Then on September 19, 1997, a car plunged off the Andrew J. Barberi as it was docking in Staten Island, causing minor injuries to the driver and a deckhand who was knocked overboard by the car.

And, in 1998, 10 people were hurt when the Samuel I. Newhouse, the sister ship of the one involved in Wednesday's accident, slammed into a Manhattan pier while docking in rough seas. None of the passengers needed hospitalization.

The only violent deaths on the ferry came in the summer of 1986 when 43-year--old Juan Gonzalez, who claimed to hear voices, attacked ferry riders with a sword, killing two and injuring nine others before he was subdued by a retired police officer. Gonzalez was placed in a mental institution, and is still there.

The cause of Wednesday’s accident, which occurred about 3:20 p.m., has not yet been determined, but there is speculation that high winds in the area may have played into the crash.

Eyewitnesses said the three-level ferry struck the wooden pilings that lead into the slip, causing a tear in the right side of the hull on the ship’s lowest level.

The Staten Island Ferry carries 70,000 commuters per day on the 25-minute ride between Staten Island and Lower Manhattan. Five boats make 104 daily trips between the two boroughs.

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