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Ferry captain still not talking

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

Michael Gansas
Michael Gansas

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The captain of the Staten Island ferry that crashed October 15 refused to answer questions at his first meeting with investigators Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

A federal judge ordered Michael Gansas to meet with federal investigators trying to find out why the boat crashed into a pier at the Staten Island ferry terminal, killing 10 passengers and injuring several dozen more.

Investigators want to ask the captain where he was before the ferry crashed, what position the controls were in, and about the condition of assistant captain Richard Smith, who was piloting the boat when it crashed into a maintenance pier, the NTSB wrote in an affidavit supporting the court order.

The NTSB has ruled out mechanical difficulty as a potential contributing factor to the crash.

During 90 minutes inside the Staten Island Coast Guard station Gansas did not tell investigators anything more than his name and his age, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

"We hope we will be able to talk to Captain Gansas in the future," said NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman in a written statement. "Our investigation into this tragedy continues, and I am confident we will learn the circumstances that led to this accident."

The ferry, carrying about 1,500 passengers from Lower Manhattan across New York Harbor's Upper Bay to Staten Island, veered off course and slammed full speed into the pier.

Smith, 55, apparently passed out at the controls before the collision. He attempted suicide shortly after the crash, according to authorities. He remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Gansas, 38, took control of the boat and steered it from the accident site to the terminal berth, NTSB investigator Marjorie Murtagh said in an affidavit after the crash.

The NTSB has interviewed a dozen crew members and more than 50 witnesses, including some injured passengers. They have not interviewed Gansas or Smith.

Robert Rush, one of the two mates on the 310-foot Andrew Barberi, told investigators he saw Smith standing up minutes before the crash, not slumped over the controls, according to New York City transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall.

Rush also said Gansas was not in the pilothouse as required by department regulations, Weinshall said.

Gansas defied a NTSB subpoena issued shortly after the crash, citing psychological trauma and a doctors' order to avoid stress. The agency then went to U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to mandate his appearance.

Gansas was suspended from his job without pay for not cooperating with investigators.

Both Gansas and Smith tested negative for alcohol or illegal drug impairment, but investigators want to check Smiths' prescription drug records.

In addition, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the Staten Island district attorney are investigating possible criminal activity.

Fifty-three passengers and the survivors of two who were killed have filed notice they intend to sue the city for damages.

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