NEW YORK — A Staten Island ferry with a history of accidents malfunctioned as it approached its terminal yesterday and smashed into a pier with a jolt that tossed passengers to the deck and hurt as many as 37 people.
The accident happened about 9:20 a.m. as the Andrew J. Barberi arrived at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island, carrying 252 passengers and 18 crew.
Passenger Jason Watler, 30, of St. George, said he became alarmed when the ferry approached the shore faster than usual, and he ran toward the back of the boat.
“It was not slowing down,’’ he said. “He was going too fast.’’
Then, he heard a “a real big boom.’’
“I stumbled a little bit,’’ he said. “People were screaming. People were crying.’’
The accident appeared to be the result of a mechanical failure, said the city’s Department of Transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan.
The ferry’s throttle failed to engage as it prepared to dock, she said, meaning the crew was unable to use the engines to apply reverse thrust and slow down. The cause of the malfunction is still unknown, she said. The ferry was moving at about 6 miles per hour when it hit.
The Fire Department said 17 passengers were initially taken by ambulance to hospitals, but that none had life-threatening injuries. Later, they said 33 had been checked out at hospitals after first being treated at the scene.
The Andrew Barberi was also involved in a 2003 wreck that killed 11 people. That accident occurred when the pilot, suffering from extreme fatigue and on painkillers, passed out at the wheel and the boat hit the terminal in St. George at full speed.