FDNY firefighters rescue 27 people from stuck ferry
Passengers initially were told that there was a mechanical error, then that the boat had hit a sandbar
By Jennifer Peltz
NEW YORK — A ferry carrying more than two dozen people hit a sandbar and got stuck for hours Wednesday, spurring an evacuation on a frigid night in the waters off New York City.
No injuries were reported in the second stranding in a month for the city's newly-expanded ferry service.
The city-sponsored, privately run ferry left the Rockaway peninsula in Queens with 27 people aboard at 5:15 p.m., bound for lower Manhattan on a 20-degree evening. About 10 minutes into the trip, "we just came to a screeching halt," passenger Jake Nicholson said.
"Everyone pretty much went flying," he later told The Associated Press by phone from the boat, stuck in the waters between Rockaway and Brooklyn. He said he was nearly tossed over the row of seats in front of him, and his phone ended up a few rows away.
Nicholson, a 21-year-old senior at Loyola University Maryland, said passengers initially were told that there was a mechanical error, then that the boat had hit a sandbar and that the captain tried to back the boat off it.
Four hours later, he, his brother and a friend were waiting their turn to get off the chilly ferry in the small, inflatable boats rescuers were using because of the shallow water. By then, passengers were "just sitting down, trying to stay warm," said Nicholson, who'd missed the Washington Capitals-New York Rangers game that was the reason for his ferry trip.
"It was difficult because they had to climb down a ladder, a 12-foot straight ladder, down the back of the ferry onto our boat and then transferred onto several different boats — so a very slow, tedious, time-consuming operation," said fire department Chief John Esposito.
The evacuation got underway around 7:30 p.m. Officials said 23 passengers and one crewmember were safely removed sometime before 11 p.m. The disabled boat was expected to be towed off the sandbar overnight.
Phone and email messages to the ferry company, Hornblower Inc., weren't immediately returned.
The ferry to and from Rockaway is part of a $335 million effort , launched this summer, to use the waterways to ease strains on New York's public transportation system. The $2.75-a-ride service is separate from the famous free ferry that has long traveled between Manhattan and Staten Island.
Last month, more than 100 passengers were rescued from a Rockaway-bound ferry that ran aground off lower Manhattan.