NEW: The U.S. Coast Guard says 85 people were injured in the crash, 1 critically
"Several people were thrown into the air and onto the ground," a passenger says
The Seastreak ferry travels between New Jersey and Pier 11 near Wall Street
As an 8 a.m. ferry made its final maneuvers across the Hudson River, Ashley Furman clutched her hand-bag and made small talk with other commuters.
Then it all went black.
When she woke up, the 26-year-old New Jersey native was in pain and on the floor with the wind knocked out of her, about six feet from where she had been standing.
“It felt like an elephant landed on me,” she said.
The high-speed ferry that serves as Furman’s normal commute slammed into a Lower Manhattan pier near Wall Street around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Scores were left bloodied and writhing in agony as emergency crews rushed to the scene.
“Once I was able to catch my breath, I got up and it was very scary,” Furman said.
Packed with 326 passengers and five crew members, the vessel tossed people like rag dolls as it slammed to a halt, flinging those aboard into the air and against walls, seats and windows, according to several witnesses.
“I saw a lot of bleeding heads with white bandages (and) a lot of people strapped to boards,” said passerby Julie Westfall.
“It felt like we were in a car crash,” said passenger Elizabeth Banta, who watched in horror as medical personnel began triage on at least 85 injured people.
Two were initially listed in critical condition as emergency crews rushed the wounded on stretchers to hospitals. But by Wednesday evening, authorities said only one person’s condition remained critical.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board deployed a team to the scene and planned to more fully undertake their investigation on Thursday.
As the vessel approached Manhattan’s Pier 11, witnesses said, unsuspecting commuters had gotten up from their seats and packed closer to the ferry exits and atop stairwells – a typical occurrence at the end of their 40-minute commute.
But the perches may have magnified the effects of the crash, as passengers careened down stairwells and against windows.
“We know that they hit the pier at a relatively high rate of speed,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Gordon Loebl, who estimated that the boat had been traveling at about 14 knots, or 16 mph.
Furman said the vessel seemed to be “going pretty fast for a boat that was supposed to be docking.”
After the crash, the front of the ship bore a large gash.
The ferry, privately operated by Seastreak, provides daily service between Atlantic Highlands and Highlands in New Jersey to piers in Lower Manhattan.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured,” Seastreak LLC said in a written statement, adding that it would work with authorities to determine the cause.
Thirty-one people were transported to New York’s Bellevue Hospital. Of those, all were considered non-critical and were expected to be released Wednesday.
This is not the first time this vessel has been involved in a crash.
Coast Guard records indicate that the same Seastreak ferry in 2009 slammed into a New Jersey dock and tore a 2- to 3-foot gash in the starboard bow of the vessel.
A year later, a collision with a dock pile punctured a hole in the port side of the same boat.
Wednesday’s crash also drew comparisons to an unrelated 2010 incident when a ferry with mechanical problems crashed into the Staten Island Ferry terminal, injuring 36 people.
That ferry was the same vessel involved in an October 2003 crash that killed 11 people and injured 42, considered one of the worst ferry accidents in New York’s recent history.
CNN’s Chris Boyette, Alison Kosik and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.