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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Ferry Probe

Aired October 17, 2003 - 13:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we're going to take you live to Staten Island. Ellen Engleman, NTSB chair, briefing reporter of course on the ferry disaster from a couple of days ago.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ELLEN ENGLEMAN, NTSB CHAIRWOMAN: ... based on both blood and urine samples taken at the hospital.

There were negative results for alcohol or illegal drugs. The NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, has issued a subpoena for additional testing on the pilot for prescription drugs.

Other categories of information, requested information on weather. According to the National Weather Service, data received from the John F. Kennedy Airport, there were sustained winds out of the west. At 3:00 p.m., they were 37 mile percent hour. At 4:00 p.m., approximately 26 miles per hour. Under those conditions, generally, there's no prohibition against operating under these wind conditions.

Concerning the vessel, New York City is conducting underwater inspections using New York Police Department divers and contracted divers. New York City has begun cleaning debris from the ship. For investigative purposes, the NTSB no longer requires a vessel to remain at the St. George terminal. We've been informed it will be moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yard upon Coast Guard approval of its seaworthiness. We anticipate that that move will occur Saturday morning around 7:00 a.m. The Coast Guard will establish a 250-yard safety zone, and it will be escorted by a Coast Guard vessel.

We'd like to clarify the parties of interest under this investigation. Parties, according to the NTSB, are defined as those investigations that can provide the NTSB with technical assistance in this investigation. We have five parties to the investigation at this time. The New York State Department of Transportation, the New York City Fire Department, the New York City Police Department, the United States Coast Guard, and the New York City Department of Transportation.

I'd like to give you an update on the four working group areas of our investigation. In engineering operations, we've now interviewed four individuals. There's no signs a mechanical or engine trouble before the allision. Allision, remember, is defined as when you come in contact with a nonmoving object. This was not a collision, it was allision. There were no loss of power or propulsion control, there were no alarms. The engine room is fully intact. At this point, all indications are that the vessel remains at full throttle and pitch at the time of the allision. In other words, it neither sped up nor slowed down at the time of the accident. Operating speed is approximately 14 to 15 knots, or 16 to 17 miles per hour.

Deck operations -- we've inspected the bridge controls. Nothing appears to be out of order. We've interviewed four crew members, and more interviews are scheduled for today. We've met with the vessel tracking service. We've also collected data on the crew records, and we have personnel records on the captain and pilot for the Coast Guard that are still under review.

There's been an issue reported by other sources there was a prior accident concerning the pilot in 1995. We'd like to state that in this incident in 1995, the NTSB did not conduct an investigation because it did not meet our criteria for an investigation. The U.S. Coast Guard did investigate. The report shows that only minor injuries were involved and that the U.S. Coast Guard found no negligence or misconduct in this incident.

As far as the survival factors within our investigation, we've interviewed hospitalized passengers. And additional interviews are occurring that began at 1:00 this afternoon. Several of the passengers we interviewed include those with serious injuries. Passengers have reported to us that there were no warnings, no whistles. Regular passengers who knew the vessel have reported they did feel it was going faster than normal. They indicated that they received a warning to get back and we're scheduling interviews with the emergency personnel who were either at the accident site or in the hospitals to discuss their views.

Human factors content are as follows: The crew seemed well rested and trained. We've begun interviews with the deck hands. Some have reported that they observed tat the strike or the allision was to occur and they did begin warning passenger to move back.

We received a VTS audiotape -- that's a vessel tracking service audiotape. The only communications on that tape, requesting medical assistance and rescue personnel. There's no VTS radar data available. It was not recorded.

Lastly, as far as captain and pilot interviews, according to his lawyer, the captain will be available for a scheduled interview with the NTSB on Tuesday, October 21st.

For the pilot, due to his medical condition, it is still critical, but stable. We will not have been able to interview him until his medical condition allows us to have an interview. So we will not interview the pilot until it's prudent and capable to do so.

At this time, I'll take any questions from.

QUESTION: Do you know if the pilot was alone at the time of the accident? ENGLEMAN: We do not yet know all the circumstances on the bridge. We still have received conflicting reports as far as who was on the bridge and what was occurring. We will not speculate or offer secondhand information or rumors on that issue until we know for sure.

QUESTION: It sounds as though the mechanical -- everything was working, the weather, there was no prohibition about using the vessel. Does it look like you're pointing in the direction of human error? is that an unfair assumption?

ENGLEMAN: What we do at the NTSB is we look at all possibilities, and as I've indicated today, we're beginning to show either normal activities in certain areas or slowly beginning to come to the point where we could start focusing on other areas.

As we've stated, weather conditions seemed somewhat stable. Certainly, there was wind gusts, but it was within normal operating conditions. So we're slowly delineating down to what happened. We're going to rule out what happened and we'll rule in what happened concurrently. In other words, we're going to look at all the condition and continue to narrow it down.

QUESTION: Have you...

PHILLIPS: Ellen Engleman, NTSB chair there live in Staten Island, briefing reporters on the latest information in regard to the investigation that's taking place on that ferry. Now we're being told not collision, but a ferry allision, allision meaning striking up against something versus colliding into something. Interesting technical point there.

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