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Ferry that crashed in lower Manhattan suffered mechanical failure, captain says

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Jan. 9, 2013: A member of the National Transportation Safety Board, inspects one of two damaged areas of Seastreak Wall Street ferry, in New York.AP

The captain of a commuter ferry that crashed into a lower Manhattan wharf told federal investigators Thursday that the vessel had a mechanical failure and he was unable to put it in reverse when he tried to dock.

The 36-year-old captain of the Seastreak Wall Street was interviewed by National Transportation Safety Board investigators for three hours Thursday, one day after the vessel made a hard landing, hurling scores of people down stairs and into walls at the end of a routine run across New York Bay. Around 70 were hurt, 11 seriously.

The captain, Jason Reimer, and his crew "were shaken and very concerned about the accident," said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt. "They've been very forthright and cooperative."

Sumwalt said the captain told investigators that as the ferry approached the dock, he moved from a central console to one on the starboard, or right, side of the vessel, as was customary. When he tried to put the ferry in reverse, it didn't work, Sumwalt said. He quickly switched back to the center, but reverse didn't work there either, he reported. He also reported the engines later died.

At the time it smashed into the dock, the Seastreak Wall Street was going about 13 miles an hour, which is fast for the usual crawl into the slip, but not necessarily for turning into the area, experts said. After the impact, the boat was able to dock normally. Reimer said the steering mechanism was not an issue, according to the NTSB.

The ferry had recently undergone a major overhaul that gave it new engines and a new propulsion system, and officials are looking into whether they played a role. The vessel will be inspected out of the water.

The captain was "Seastreak's most experienced," Sumwalt said, with 17 years on ferries, 12 of them as captain.