SI Ferry Captain Speaks

Friday, November 04, 2005
According to reports, the captain of the Staten Island ferry that slammed into a pier and killed 11 people when its assistant pilot fell asleep says he initially lied about where he was during the crash because he wanted to share the blame. "I felt I had a responsibility as a captain to shoulder some of the blame for the actions of (assistant pilot) Richard Smith," former Capt. Michael Gansas told WCBS-TV. Gansas, who was fired soon after the crash for failing to cooperate with the investigation and had not spoken publicly, told WCBS on Thursday night the crash was like "a big dream." "I felt a sudden jolt," he said, "and I knew something was abnormal." He said he rushed from the rear of the ferry to the pilot house. "I noticed Richard Smith with his hands over his head, his eyes, and he was saying, `I must have dozed off. I fell asleep,"' Gansas said. "At that point I took control of the boat and prepared to move the boat from that area to a slip where we can receive emergency services." The ferry, the Andrew J. Barberi, had crashed as it was docking on a run from Manhattan, tearing a 250-foot-long gash that ran 8 feet deep into its hull. Besides the 11 people killed, dozens were injured, including some who lost limbs. Gansas said the carnage was difficult to comprehend. "It was devastating," he said. "It all felt like it was a big dream." Gansas' silence following the crash infuriated survivors, victims' relatives and city officials, who accused him of handicapping the investigation. But he said Thursday that he didn't talk because he couldn't. "I absolutely couldn't say anything," he said. "There was a major criminal investigation taking place, and I was at the center of it. And I wanted to say whatever I could. I wanted to scream; I wanted to yell." Smith, the assistant pilot, who was dependent on a number of medications, eventually pleaded guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter for his part in the Oct. 15, 2003, accident, one of the deadliest in New York's mass transit history. Gansas initially was accused of making false statements for telling U.S. Coast Guard investigators that he was in the pilot house when Smith passed out and had tried in vain to right the ferry. He later struck a deal with prosecutors to cooperate in their case against ferry supervisor Patrick Ryan in exchange for dropping the charge. Ryan pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting he chose not to implement or enforce a rule requiring ferries be operated by two pilots.
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