Stranded NY ferry went off-course; mayor cites 'human error'

A New York City ferry that got stuck on a sandbar and took hours to evacuate apparently traveled off its usual route, the operator said Thursday as the mayor blamed "human error."

Mayor Bill de Blasio said officials would take action after the second stranding in a month for the city's newly-expanded ferry service. Both pilots involved have been pulled off their work, the Democratic mayor said.

Cameron Clark, a senior vice president of ferry operator Hornblower Inc., said it appeared the boat was "off route."

"That's something we're looking into," Clark said in a statement. Ferries have routes they generally follow, though they might deviate from them because of boat traffic or other reasons.

The boat hit a sandbar in Jamaica Bay around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday with about two dozen people aboard; authorities initially said 27, but the city Economic Development Corp. said Thursday that updated information showed there were 26, including four crew members. They were headed from the Rockaway peninsula in Queens to lower Manhattan.

The evacuation proved to be "a very slow, tedious, time-consuming operation," Fire Department Chief John Esposito said. Firefighters had to use small, inflatable boats to reach the ferry in the shallow water, and passengers had to climb down a 12-foot ladder to reach the boats on one of the coldest nights of the year, with temperatures dropping into the teens.

No injuries were reported, and the evacuation was completed by 11 p.m. The ferry was towed off the sandbar.

Hornblower is promising the stranded passengers a yearly ferry pass and other gifts — including ticket reimbursements and seats to a new game for some New York Rangers hockey fans who were headed to Wednesday's Rangers-Washington Capitals game when they got stuck on the ferry. (The Rangers won, 1-0.)

The Rockaway ferry 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.


Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.