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October 15, 2003

Crash on the ferry
Posted by Teresa at 07:13 PM *

There’s been a serious accident at the St. George terminal, which is the Staten Island side of the Staten Island Ferry. I’m going by the New York Times’s story. Ten people are dead, and 34 have been taken to hospital. Divers are searching the water to see if anyone’s down there. The overall toll’s almost certain to rise.

The accident was bizarre. The Andrew J. Barberi plowed into the dock at a 45-degree angle, at the kind of speed ferries normally make only in the middle of the harbor, and hit hard enough that the side got ripped off the boat. I’m weirded out. Patrick and I lived on Staten Island for seven years, in a neighborhood not far from the ferry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come and gone from that terminal, and taken that boat.

(When I first heard the story, I figured it had to be the American Legion, because it’s the perennially unlucky boat in the ferry fleet. If your ferry’s listing to port when it’s traveling in a straight line on dead calm waters, you know you’re in the Legion. But the Andrew J. Barberi? What? What?!)

The ferryboats never, ever do that. They never do anything even vaguely like that. At most you’re going to get a cancellation for fog, or experience some barely perceptible turbulence if you’re crossing in the bitty Alice Austin on a very rough night, or once every year or three get treated to a passage through the Buttermilk Channel because there’s something-or-other going on in the main harbor. (Going through the Buttermilk Channel means you’re going around the east side of Governor’s Island, rather than the west side as usual.) That’s about as exciting as the ferry gets. Sometimes the passengers do exciting things, but that’s different. The boat gets loaded, starts slowly, takes more or less the shortest path as it lumbers across the harbor, slows down again, and does its best to dock smoothly at the other end.

They come in slowly because, basically, the ferries stop by running into the dock at the other end. If the pilot does everything just right, the boat slowly hauls itself into its slot with a small terminal thump. If it’s the Legion, it’s likely to be a bit more jarring. And once in a while, the ferry doesn’t haul its slow-moving ass into the dock at exactly the right angle, so it has to stop, back up a bit, then try again, like an inexpert driver trying to parallel park.

But … coming in fast? At a 45-degree angle? This never, ever, ever happens.

Consult your TV for what I expect will be a smorgasbord of Staten Island accents, as the newsies try to deal with rattled commuters who’re explaining how dafookinboat hit dafookinpeeah an oll hell broke loose, and how dis nevah happens—dis is weeahd.

Update: This is just getting weirder. According to New York Newsday, the captain of the Barberi has tried to commit suicide:
One hour after the fatal crash of a Staten Island Ferry, police called to the house of a man identified as its pilot found him with a pellet shot to the head and slashed wrists, police sources said.
The man was identified as Richard Smith of 75 Margaretta Court in the borough’s Westerleigh section97about a 10-minute ride from St. George, the scene of the accident. Smith was taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center on Staten Island in police custody, the sources told Newsday, as police cordoned off his house with wooden barricades and posted officers there.

About 4:20 p.m., a male caller to 911 said the boat’s captain had tried to kill himself at that address. That’s when police responded. …

Authorities also quickly sought to question the other 15 members of the crew who had been aboard the Andrew J. Barberi during its fatal afternoon crash into a St. George pier.

“The crew is all being investigated, interviewed, tested for drugs and alcohol, as is the normal procedure,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “All the crew members, as far as we know, are alive, so we’ll be able to get the information.”
The poor guy barricaded himself in his bathroom, slashed his wrists, and shot himself with a pellet gun.
Comments on Crash on the ferry:
#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 08:25 PM:

(Laura used to live on Staten Island too, not far from where we did.)

#3 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 08:46 PM:

One note--the reported death toll has actually dropped, according to NY1 and the AP, which say that four victims had originally been counted twice. I can't exactly call it good news, but it's better than it might be.

#4 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 08:47 PM:

Saw this show up on the ATT homepage, and immediately thought of you, even though I know you don't live there any more. Hope that nobody we know got hurt (yeah, I'm selfish that way).


#5 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 09:43 PM:

Sorry. It's just creepy that this could happen.


#6 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 10:45 PM:

We always seem to end up on the John F. Kennedy, for some reason.

We were at the Snug Harbor center two weeks ago - the terminals are all full of signs for the coming renovations.

I agree - this lodged in my head as Something That Does Not Happen.


#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 10:50 PM:

Do they let you say "fookin" on TV?

#8 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:06 PM:

Yes, if you're Boono.

#9 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:37 PM:

You know, I know this is magic thinking of the worst kind, it's total bullshit to attribute natural disasters with supernatural causes...but enough with the disasters in New York, already, God. Leave my friends and neighbors alone.


#10 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 11:53 PM:

(make that attribute..._to_. Not with. Errrgh.)

#11 ::: Rivka Wald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 12:29 AM:

According to CNN, the ferry master went home and attempted suicide. He's in critical condition.

How awful this all is.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 01:10 AM:

Aww Jeeze.

One of the -- frustrations? -- of riding the SI ferry is the tedium of those last minutes as the beast *slowly* lines up oozes into the slot and gets tied down.

So, yes, this is damn odd.

Whenever a friend or co-worker talks about visiting NYC, I *always* recommend a ride on the ferry. Cheap (free if you don't count the subway to get there), easy to get to, and a really great trip.

I still wouldn't hesitate to recommend the trip.

#13 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 07:03 AM:

This reminds me of the time about ten years ago when a cross-channel SRN4 hovercraft hit a pier coming into harbour at Dover. (Some died then, too.)

The big SRN4 hovercraft were retired about five years ago, another triumph of British extreme engineering on a shoe-string -- sort of like Concorde -- that couldn't compete on cost with the Channel railway service (for speed) or the conventional ferries (for price). Those things were enormous -- bigger than a 747, much bigger than the USMC's big troop-carrying hovercraft. We're talking a hovercraft that could carry 400 passengers and 120 cars, ducking and weaving through the tankers and freighters in the world's busiest shipping lane (the English channel) so fast that they'd have earned a speeding ticket if they'd tried it on the motorway. They cut the journey from the hour-plus of the conventional ferries to 20-30 minutes, and it was a special experience, like a flight on an early airliner. I was a passenger on one once, and I still remember the moment when the pilot began feeding air into the skirts, and the big, wide room I was sitting in -- like the lounge on a passenger ferry, except for the seatbelts -- just went up like a lift, ten feet, twenty feet, then slowly began to turn and drift sideways and sort of fell across the concrete apron and into the sea, accelerating smoothly.

But I digress ...

The hovercraft service mostly ran without a hitch for twenty, thirty years -- except this one time. A hovercraft was coming into the harbour in a gale at the same time as a big RoRo ferry. Normally they'd slow down before entering harbour, but a combination of gusting wind and turbulence around the harbour mole (which acted as a windbreak) ensured it was still making about forty miles per hour. It struck the sea wall a glancing blow that ripped about twenty feet of metal out of the starboard hull, including the wall of one passenger lounge. I can still remember the shock when I saw it on TV that evening. I'd been sitting right there, either on that ship or its' sister, a couple of years earlier ...

Ferries aren't supposed to do that.

#14 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 07:14 AM:

Of course I immediately thought about you two, and had to take a deep breath to remind myself that you no longer lived in SI. It took a long moment, though.


#15 ::: Charles Kuffner ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 08:58 AM:

Jeebus. I'm another former Islander who took the ferry for years on my way to high school and summer jobs. I was on the American Legion when it was rammed by a Norwegian freighter in a thick fog back in 1981. (I even still remember the freighter's name - it was the Hoek Orchid.)

I've experienced a few inelegant dockings in my day, and have heard of some that caused injuries, but I'll say what everyone else has - this just does not happen. I'm totally in shock.

#16 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 09:24 AM:

The NY Times is now reporting that instead of reversing engines and sort of drifting into the dock--it's the midpoint turnover maneuver beloved of SF authors with fuel to burn--the ferry kept going with engines thrusting forward until it hit.

I don't know what the NTSB is going to find, and I hope the captain survives and finds some comfort in aiding the investigation.

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 10:03 AM:


Giuliani said that when that airliner crashed right after takeoff from JFK, not all that long after 9/11, his unbidden first thought was "Oh God, not Rockaway again." It's a small long-settled neighborhood, and there were a lot of members of the FDNY living there. He'd already been to a lot of funerals in Rockaway that year, and he didn't want to have to deal with any more.

Bad stuff can happen anywhere. It's just one of those things.

#18 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 12:04 PM:

I was part of a lovely wedding reception on the ferry once, back in the day when we were all really poor and really romantic . . . drinking champagne while floating about in NY Harbor is a wonderful thing.

Much talk in the news last night about the high winds and chop on the harbor possibly contributing to the accident--and it was indeed blustery yesterday, with tree limbs coming down all over the place and people hanging onto each other while walking (especially smaller people).

Further news reports this morning are saying things like "the captain passed out a few moments before the accident" and the co-captain attempted to take control and steer the boat into the dock. An attorney representing the captain stated that his client neglected to take his blood pressure medication yesterday and that this may have caused him to pass out, but how he can be sure of this I am not sure, since the captain is still reportedly in critical condition.

Despite September 11th, plane crashes, and other disasters, it still feels strange to me to see steel and other _strong_ materials twisted like pipecleaners.

Thankfully only a few people fell or jumped into the water (58 degrees yesterday) and were quickly rescued. The reports of amputations were horrible.

Small mercy: it was not rush hour.

#19 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 12:26 PM:

Charlie -- unsurprising but disappointing to hear that the hovercraft have shut down; they were on my gotta-do-that-sometime list. Another SF connection: James White (when GoH at Lunacon ~20 years ago) mentioned seeing an early (trial?) run with Bob Shaw; nothing untoward happened to the hovercraft, but since they were standing near a puddle they left what White described as a Hiroshima-like shadow on the wall behind them.

I rode the ferry for a lark a couple of months ago; nice view, nice breeze after a hot day, and a routine ride with no indication of how tricky it probably was to reach zero speed forward and sideways at contact despite any currents around the tips of the islands. This morning's Boston Globe says another ferry pilot was in the wheelhouse but didn't realize quickly enough that the captain was unconscious; I wonder if that will be substantiated and if so how long the captain had been on duty.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 01:41 PM:

They said on the radio this morning that the pilot passed out for reasons relating to his heart medication.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 02:17 PM:

On a normal commuting day I'd have been standing at the right front corner of the boat, waiting to get off. Or maybe not; I always looked out the windows a fair bit, and there's a good chance I would have noticed that the ferry was off its usual course, and wasn't slowing down. I hope I would have noticed, at any rate.

Clearly, a lot of commuters -- many of whom were sitting only a few feet away from the windows -- weren't watching. Take that as an index of how appallingly unexpected this was.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 02:36 PM:

Charles, you were on the ill-fated Legion? I gather that was a nasty one.

"Inelegant" is exactly the right word for the ferryboats' less successful docking maneuvers. I figured the occasional jarring thumps were the reason for the signs that say to stay off the stairs when the boat is coming into the dock. But unless you disregarded them and lost your footing coming down the stairs, at worst you might get knocked a little off balance, maybe have to take a half-step to right yourself. And that was only if you were standing out on the porch of the Legion or the JFK, mere feet from where the ferry made contact with the pilings.

The ferry is serene. You don't even have to worry about getting robbed or mugged, because if the crew knows there's been a crime onboard, they'll sit just off the docks and wait until the perpetrator is caught.

This is all just so wrong.

#23 ::: Lee Hauser ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 02:47 PM:

Here in Seattle ferries are pretty important as well...we have a lot of people commuting across Puget Sound(though obviously not as many as Staten Island to Manhattan). Your ferry terminals seem to be constructed a lot differently than ours. Our ferries would have to be traveling parallel to the ferry slip to get any damage like that... the slips are fairly short as well as V-shaped, so the ferry coasts in and is held in place by engines and the surrounding pilings, which barely extend past the bow of the boat. Of course, all of our ferries are car ferries, though they look superficially like your ferries.

Our ferry people are watching the New York accident very they said this morning, ferry people everywhere look carefully at things like this, to learn and (they hope) prevent duplication.

#24 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 02:49 PM:

"The ferry is serene. You don't even have to worry about getting robbed or mugged, because if the crew knows there's been a crime onboard, they'll sit just off the docks and wait until the perpetrator is caught."

Under the topic Great Trivia Facts of Admiralty Law, mugging someone on the Staten Island Ferry could count as piracy on the high seas.

#25 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 03:58 PM:

Your ferry terminals seem to be constructed a lot differently than ours. Our ferries would have to be traveling parallel to the ferry slip to get any damage like that...the slips are fairly short as well as V-shaped, so the ferry coasts in and is held in place by engines and the surrounding pilings, which barely extend past the bow of the boat.

Not all that different. Here's a map of what happened, courtesy of the New York Times.

#26 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2003, 06:45 PM:

So not only was da boat coming in too fast, it was heading to the wrong place? It does look like the Captain lost consciousness.

I rode the ferry nearly every day for 10 years....weird doesn't even begin to touch it.

#27 ::: Chad ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 06:41 AM:

Expounding on what Lee said above, there actually have been a number of serious mishaps with Washington State Ferries ramming docks. In 1998, the Sealth rammed Colman Dock -- Seattle's Main Ferry Terminal -- and caused millions of dollars in damage. I think there were a few injuries in that collision, but no fatalities.

The Sealth belongs to the Issaquah class, which as I understand it, were built so poorly that the ferry system's chief engineer declared them to be unsafe and further said that passengers should not be near the front of those vessels when they were docking. (Those problems have since been addressed and were not an ussue, to my knowledge, in the Colman Dock incident.)

Also, the Elwha is rather notorious for running into things, and has plowed into the docks in Anacortes and Orcas Island. Somewhat fortunately, the Orcas Island dock was scheduled for demolition at the time.

What really jarred me about the Andrew J. Barberi incident was the coverage I heard on the radio about the lack of response by the ferry's crew. It sounded like they were somewhat ill-prepared to deal with the emergency, which seems rather bizarre.

#28 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 11:34 AM:

I only have been on the Staten Island Ferry once -- going the other way (to Manhattan), and that was over 30 years ago, while visiting my brother who then lived in Perth Amboy, NJ, just on the other side of Staten Island -- but I was shocked and very sad at what happened. The Ferry seemed like a nice ride (though longer than I had somehow expected), and a good, even pleasant way to commute to the city.

I was thinking of the "dead-man switch" on railroad engines, that shut off the engine if the engineer lets go, and wondering if the ferries have those. (Heck, even my lawnmower has one!) But I suppose with the inertia/foreward momentum, the ferry would keep going, and if it were close enough to the dock, unless the other pilot in the cabin realized what was happening and took the controls in time, something like this could still happen.

#29 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 12:19 PM:

Lois, according to what I heard on the news this morning, the ferry might well have a dead-man switch, to no benefit in this case. Apparently the pilot did not let go when he became unconscious; the captain had to pry him loose from the controls.

#30 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 12:41 PM:

Thanks, Lis. I was just
(a) wondering
(b) thinking out loud
(c) channeling the three generations of railroaders in my family
(d) all of the above.

#31 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 01:27 PM:

RR deadman switches are actually a little more sophisticated these days. They require some sort of activity -- changing the throttle, blowing the whistle, etc. After too much time without activity, an alarm goes off. If the engineer doesn't repsond to it, the brakes kick in.

This is more complicated in the case of a ship in that there aren't any brakes. Even with the throttle at zero, the ship can still coast or be moved by currents.

#32 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2003, 05:33 PM:

More legal trivia, for Macdonald, courtesy of today's Newsday:

  1. There's a nineteenth-century law that limits liability for any marine accident to the current value of the ship in question. If the ship has been badly damaged, that comes down to the price of that much scrap steel. However, if negligence is proven, there's no liability cap.
  2. In the 1980s, the Manhattan and Staten Island district attorneys agreed that jurisdiction for any crime committed on the ferry would depend on the direction of travel. In this case, since the boat crashed while traveling to Staten Island, if there is a criminal case, it will be brought on Staten Island.
#33 ::: Charles Kuffner ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2003, 08:21 PM:

Yes, I was on the Legion for that crash. As it happens, my next-door neighbor, who was attending the High School for Performing Arts, was also on board, and remembered that she had a camera with her. She took some photos, including one that showed the Hoek Orchid's hull piercing the walls of the Legion, and sold them to the NY Post for $500. They ran one of her pics on the front page.

Damn. I really need to blog this now that I'm back. Is there any new word on this?

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 01:40 AM:

Nothing terribly illuminating. Some photos you don't have to look at if you don't want to. Some hamburger-all-over-the-highway accounts you don't need to read if you don't want to. They're investigating, and have warned that the investigation could take up to a year to complete.

#35 ::: mnd ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 01:40 PM:

ts cmmn knwldg, th frr cptn ws drnk nd psst. DH!!

#36 ::: mnd ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 01:43 PM:

H ws drnk nd pssd t. shld knw, ws th n wh wtchd hm drnk th br.

#37 ::: Chd Hggns ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 05:32 PM:

Th ggrph f th r srrndng mnhttn s smlr t ncnt gpt wth stnc clt n spttswd nmd ftr n gptn gd n th frm f dg nmd st. Th d th frr bt crshd hrd nd ngl spk t m wrd frm th bbl. Ths s th sgn f Jnn, th nd f th wrld whr ll th Jws gt svd, th mrk f th bst nd ll tht. Th smk f 911 ws dth cld trpng jws n, bt G-d blw t bck th thr drctn. Th stnc plt hs bn rvld. Mr sgn f Jhn, th grt wht shrk ttcks f 1916, th 250 pnd hrp sl tht swm nt lk n spttswd. Ppl wh dn't tk th mrk f th bst wll sffr grtl. Bt th sffrng n hll f ths wh wrshp th bst wll b vn wrs.

#39 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 08:16 PM:

Satanic cult? The last time I spoke of anything of that ilk it was in one of the Math classes I teach. I asked them to add up all the numbers on a Roulette wheel.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 33 + 34 + 35 + 36

The total is 666.

I talked about "The Number of the Beast" and asked if that meant that all gambling casinos were satanic.

One of the thankfully rational students said "No, it just means that, like you taught us, 666 is a Triangular Number."

* *
* * *
* * * *
* * * * *
* * * * * *
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * *


1 = 1
1+2 = 3
1+2+3 = 6
1+2+3+4 = 10
1+2+3+4+5 = 15
1+2+3+4+5+6 = 21
1+2+3+4+5+6+7 = 28
1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8 = 36


The other recreational use of triangular numbers is 10. The 10 pins in bowling, you know.

No Egyptian mummy curses or dudes with horns and tails and a whiff of sulfur.

That math paper that came to me in a dream on the cusp of 2 January/3 January involved Triangular Numbers.

Oh, and the other time Satanic stuff came up recently was when my friend Steve Lamb on the Altadena Town Concil was sued for $2,000,000 by a former Los Angeles City Councilman and California State Assemblyman who'd been jailed for a conviction on racketeering and money laundering. Steve had accidently sent a half-finished email about said racketeer ex-politico, summarizing the charges of child abuse laid against the racketeer by his daughter in a divorce trial, and that the racketeer was reported to have done the abuse in a satanic ceremony.

The crook sued for defamation, saying that the email hurt his reputation.

This sad case has been to the State Appeals Court and was not accepted for review by the state Supreme Court.

So, whether ferry captains are hurt by satanist cults or not, your First Amendment Rights can be trampled on if you ever accuse someone of lothsome reputation of being satanist.


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